A Novelette: The Crystal Manor’s Secret

The Crystal Manor’s Secret

“Time heals all wounds,” he remembered someone saying. He thought it to be horse shit.

Simon is a 14-year-old dealing with plenty of things: depression, suicide attempts, parental issues, and being the subject of plenty of kids’ jokes at school. His parents take the advice of their son’s psychiatrist and go on a family vacation to the fabled Crystal Bay Estate.

This family trip, however, is anything but helpful. Read on to read the story in its entirety.

The Crystal Manor’s Secret

SIMON LOOKED OUT THE REAR WINDOW of the car as it drove up the long brick road to the grand manor. Truly, it was a magnificent sight. It was a large estate home built near the cliff-side overlooking a crystal-clear bay.

Blocks of gray stone laid the foundation as it stretched up towards the heavens. Gargoyles and ornate gothic rods and spikes protruded from the peaks. Wrought iron windows offered as eyes in and out of the exquisite manor where all weary travelers were welcomed to stay. As they came to a halt where an attendant gathered up their luggage, his parents began doing their usual bickering.

Simon rolled his eyes and knew that this stay was nothing that would help him, or help his parent’s marriage. He had accepted that they would divorce or worst case scenario, he’d find a place to die and that would be it. He was tired of changing schools, being labeled a freak, a fat ass, and being called names, getting into fights. He was tired of being the subject of his parent’s arguments and receiving persistent beatings and threats.

So many times, he had been asked how he got the bruises from, and how he got the scars on his wrists. When he was last admitted for attempting suicide, the doctors had even told his parents that they were at fault; abusive, both mentally and physically. They both replied with their typical “when and where?” snide reply.

That was a few years ago. Now, Simon was under constant supervision, given medication (which was now having an adverse effect) and was forced into psychological sessions with a washed up Broadway actor/writer that ‘had a sudden change of heart.’ One that had said ‘so many young people are dying and are wasting their talent, and being selfish by throwing their lives away.’ The egg-man always pissed him off.

He had stopped taking his medication once he noticed his suicidal tendencies were increasing and instead started self-therapy. Which, more or less, started to show positive signs for himself. Save for his parents incessant probing of his affairs, reading his journal, along with other matters he struggled with out of the home, all of which were not helping.

His parents figured, along with the egg-man, that a family trip to the Crystal Bay Estate would benefit them all. Several thousand dollars and a 13-hour trip, here they were.

“Time heals all wounds,” he remembered someone saying. He thought it to be horse shit.

He went to the trunk of the car and motioned to carry his own case, where the attendant stopped him.

“Young sir, please allow me to get that for you.” The lanky man smiled under his faux mask of obviously wanting to scream and tell the boy’s parents to shut the hell up.

“No, it’s quite alright. Thank you, though. Plus, you have your hands full at the moment anyway.” Simon replied, giving a slight motion of his head towards his parents.

The attendant gave a genuine smile in reply and set to loading the bags onto a trolley for the bellhop to carry in.

Simon walked towards the massive wooden doors that arched to at least 13 feet tall. The door on the right opened and gave way to a lobby that contradicted its exterior. Flesh toned and heavily induced with marble. Marble walls, marble tile, marble ceilings. So much marble! A lush red carpet stretched from the reception desk to the door, mimicking a tongue. He felt as if he was walking into a mouth more so than a lavish home remade into a hotel.

Banisters of two great staircases on the left and right came from the second floor down to the lobby. A massive crystal chandelier hung high but sulked. Had he been several feet taller he could have probably touched it. He could make out the ornate figurines that each piece of crystal resembled. Some were horses, cows, people, birds, and other objects. It was a giant world of crystal. Transparent. Equal. And each with their unique faults.

There were great elaborate tapestries that hung on the wall, further amplifying the flesh tones with its red and pink hues. Sconce lighting along some of the walls almost mimicked rows of teeth. Paintings of the founding family and its ancestors populated the walls, in line with other memorabilia and wrought iron windows that were the eyes in and out to the world. The balconies of each floor seemed to resonate an ivory tone, with spiral wrapping staircases leading to who knew where. Off on the sides were passageways labeled to the elevators, restrooms, pool house, banquet hall, kitchen, and other destinations.

Simon caught his reflection on every wall, ceiling, and floor, and it made him sick. He hated his appearance. He was average height for his age, and slightly overweight, though, his father would still comment that he could stand to lose 30 or so more pounds and to work out. He had short dark brown hair and brown eyes. He was pale in his facial complexion, whereas his arms and legs were a darker tone. Often he’d be made fun of for his natural look, dubbed as a goth, freak, wannabe closet vamp, or whatever the kids thought was a cool insult today.

He shook his head and rolled his eyes. He soldiered on to the reception desk.

A short man with slick back black hair, bright blue eyes, and a crazy mustache greeted him. “Good afternoon, sir. Checking in are we?” the man inquired professionally; his eyes seemed to exaggerate a sort of crazy. Simon liked him.

“Ah, yes, my parents and I. Last name Carroll. Nancy, Thomas, and Simon S.” Simon replied.

Outside, his parents still argued with one another, while the attendant tapped the bellhop’s shoulder and motioned to move the trolley indoors.

The man looked the computer screen over, “Ah here we are. You will be staying in room 318.” The man rolled his r’s elegantly, striking admiration in Simon. He looked back to Simon. “Ah…dear me, where are your parents?”

Simon sighed, “they’re out there…still.”

The man glared at the screen towards where the parents arguing began to subside finally. “Pah,” the man remarked. “I apologize, young master.”

Simon smiled at the crazy-eyed man, catching his name to be Sal.

“It’s alright. I’m used to it,” Simon sighed. “Though, I dunno if everyone here is going to want to be used to it.”

The bellhop approached from behind Simon. Sal took note and motioned him over. “Please show the young master to room 318.”

The bellhop nodded in compliance and ushered the man towards the elevators. As the pair of polished gray metal doors parted, he thought he heard something.

Hey. Simon looked around and didn’t see anything unusual. Naturally, he shrugged it off and wandered into the elevator with the bellhop.

The bellhop was taller than Simon by a few feet. He was more well-kept than Sal, at least in regards to facial hair. With a black cap strapped to his head, which seemed to camouflage his black hair. The man could have been mistaken as a floating head if anything. Black shoes, with black slacks, with black gloves, black, black, black.

“So, is your wardrobe only black or do you have a Batman cowl too?” Simon inquired.

The bellhop chuckled. “No, I have some reds too. Unfortunately, I am no Batman, though, it would be great.”

Simon smiled to himself.

The bell dinged as they had arrived at the floor. The bellhop ushered Simon to the room and unloaded the trolley. Once finished, and formally introduced as Stephen, shown the rooms, where things were in the house, the Bellhop motioned his leave.

“Don’t you want a tip or anything?” Simon asked.

“Normally, yes, I’d ask for a tip…but that’s something your parents can afford, not you.” Stephen replied.

“Well, if it’s any consolation, I think I’ll order room service…just put it under my dad’s name and write in a suitable amount.” Simon grinned.

“You’re too kind, but I am afraid I must respectfully decline. I’d much rather do things the legal way…” Stephen paused, “unless they try to stiff me.”

“Your secret is safe with me,” Simon added.

“Good day, sir.” Stephen bowed and motioned to leave the room.

“Thanks,” Simon replied before Stephen exited the room, closing the door behind him.

Simon started to look around the massive room. It seemed to resemble a luxury apartment than a hotel room. There was an ornate shower enclosure, a long tub with lion claws. There was even a Jacuzzi tub in the corner that looked out to the bay below. The bathroom was nothing short of an overpriced venue of escape in itself. There were lavish sofas, a couch, recliners, and assorted tables in the living area atop a plush beige carpet, with a sizeable television complete with assorted game consoles. Pictures framed of the time spent to build the estate hung on the wall; history in pictures…history in the making. The room resonated with oodles of dollars spent on luxury and fine living.

On the back wall, the path split into two: one left and one right. Simon’s room was on the right, while his parents were on the left. He wagered a peek into his parent’s room but figured it was just more luxury nonsense. He wandered into his room, with luggage in tow. He opened the door and thought he saw a person standing on his bed; or seemingly jumping on it. He dropped his luggage and flipped on the light, causing the anomaly to vanish.

Maybe it’s just me being tired. It was a hell of a trip after all.

He grumbled to himself something incoherently.

His room mirrored the same lavish style that was portrayed in the living room. Except he had his own blissful view of Crystal Bay. He placed his bags down by his bed and stood by the window. He took in the amazing sight of the bay and the cliff that jutted out towards the bay. He swore he could see a kid sitting on the ledge. He blinked, and then it was gone.

He drew the shade and the curtains and wagered to get some sleep. He turned around and caught earshot of his parents coming to the room; still bickering. He let out a sigh and closed his room’s door in time as they entered.

He plopped down on the soft bed and rolled over to his left. He knew his parents were coming to check on him.

“Simon? Are you in here?” his mother inquired as she peeked in his room.

“Nope. Just some guy,” Simon replied.

His mother rolled her eyes. “Well, if some guy would like dinner, I recommend to get it now. We have an early start tomorrow morning. Or do you want to waste it all by sleeping in?”

“I don’t know. Do you want to waste it all by arguing with dad?” he countered.

“Don’t get smart with me, young man!” his mother raised her voice and threw open the door.

“Nancy, don’t take it out on him. He’s right. Let’s take a breath. Calm down.” Simon heard his dad trying to gather his mother.

Simon grinned at the attempt his father was making at controlling his temper.

Nancy stomped her foot. “I am calm! Don’t tell me to be calm! I am calm God dammit!” Nancy retaliated back.

“No, you’re not. You’re causing a ruckus on night one of our retreat…and you’re only going to make matters worse,” Thomas coolly replied.

Nancy flipped the light switch off and pulled the door shut with force. “Oh, so he gets a pass at being depressed and angry because he’s a spoiled little shit? ‘Oh, woe is me. My life is so difficult,’” she mockingly whined.

Simon and Thomas both sighed at the same time through separate rooms. A common formality both father and son shared.

“And you wonder why he’s tried to kill himself? He’s going through a tough time…” Thomas mumbled.

“A tough time? TOUGH TIME?! A tough time was when I was raped by your so-called ‘best friend’. And what did you do? You did nothing! Just be thankful that Simon is actually your son because I would have killed him and that son of a bitch myself.” Nancy raged on.

“Stop it. STOP IT!” Thomas yelled back, his patience becoming lost.

Simon started to drown out the yelling. It was nothing different. Though, he supposed it was a normal way to fall asleep. To drift off to the world of nothingness…the sea of the everlasting void. Occasionally, he’d have a dream here or there. He loved them, even if they would be torturous or be something so horrible. It was better than dreaming of nothing.

As he fell asleep, he could feel as if there was something…or someone watching him. He could feel a hint of sadness emanate nearby. From something…someone…

He rolled over and brought his arms and legs in and silently rocked to sleep.

****

He awoke the next day with the sun piercing through the curtains and shade. He let out a yawn that ached his jaw and cracked his back. Truth be told, it was the best sleep he ever had. He had a magnificent dream too. He dreamt that other kids surrounded him, both younger and older than he and that they were all having fun playing with one another. He felt no pain, no anger, no resentment. He felt nothing but pure joy and happiness.

He hopped out of bed with renewed vigor and changed his attire for the day. He figured he’d go simple, a black polo, black slacks, and his black shoes. To everyone else, it was his undertaker attire. To him, it was life.

He went over to the window and looked out. The view with the sun high in the sky was a spectacular spectacle. The water shimmered like diamonds passing by one another. The blue of the sky radiated; magnified a thousand fold by the surface of the bay. The bay mirrored the sky perfectly. He could see why it was dubbed Crystal Bay.

He went to the bathroom, having already taken note that his parents had left him. He ventured out to the living area and found a note on the coffee table.

He mumbled as he read it aloud. “Gone to breakfast and then for a walk with your mother. Go help yourself to whatever you want. Love Dad.”

Simon rolled his eyes and scoffed at the note. He then shrugged it off. He was feeling good; the best he had felt in a long time, and he wasn’t going to let a simple note or last night’s shenanigans ruin it for him.

Simon walked down the hall, retracing his steps back to the lobby. As he wandered through the halls, he could feel sudden and ominous spots. Like he wasn’t the only one in the hallway. He turned around and looked down the hallway, thinking he caught the sound of a child laughing down the hallway. Nothing.

Shrugging it off as nothing, he continued his journey to downstairs for some morning grub. He gave a wave to Stephen and Sal at the reception desk. Both gave a wave and nod back.

As Simon rounded the corner to the hallway that led to the kitchen and dining room, he caught a girl that seemed to be around the same age as him that almost leveled him. She was petite, with long brown hair, emerald eyes, milky skin, and dressed in kitchen attire: a food stained white button-down shirt, black slacks, and black shoes.

“Woah!” Simon caught the girl.

“Oh, I am so sorry. Excuse me,” the girl said.

Simon chuckled, “it’s quite alright.”

The two tried to evade each other’s path but ended up only blocking one another. Each smiling and laughing at the ordeal.

Simon stood and waved her by, smiling.

The girl smiled as she passed by, looking behind at him as she was then out of view.

Simon smiled to himself and sighed.

He finally got to the kitchen and dining room. The dining room was massive and had a marble stone from ceiling to floor. Giant crystal chandeliers hung low from the vaulted ceiling that was painted with a mural of a bunch of angels and children playing in heaven. The chandeliers were draped with crimson silk drapes stretching from one to the other. Elegant tapestries, flags, and other wall décor hung on the walls. Small pedestals of plants, vases, sculptures, suits of armor. A massive sprawling dark rug stretched out to the entire length and width of the rooms’ huge cherry table. Smaller tables and chairs were sporadically and strategically placed around.

He gazed around for a hint of his mother and father and found they were not here. To this, he smiled wildly.

As he wandered out towards an empty table a young woman came over and greeted him with a bright smile. “Hello, sir. Will you be dining with us this morning?”

Simon glanced at her name tag that prominently read Brandi. She was petite, with shoulder-length brown-black hair tightly wound up in a bun. Her facial features, stature, and slightly darkened skin tone suggested she was of Native American descent. Her eyes a green-brown, with ruby red lipstick. To him, she was quite attractive, even if she was quite older than him. She wore the same attire all the other female servers wore: black slacks, black pumps, a black server apron, with a white button down blouse.

“Yes, ma’am,” Simon replied.

“This way please,” Brandi said as she escorted Simon to his seat.

Simon sat down and gave another look at the room that seemed to engulf him. “It’s quite an impressive view,” he said.

“Yes, it never seems to get old,” she said looking at the amazing room they stood in.

Brandi handed Simon a menu and inquired his preference of beverage. Before long, she came back with a drink in hand, and ready to take his order.

After rattling off his order, Simon continued to stare in awe at the masterful room. He took note of several other guests that sat around. Some were happy, some sad. He took note of one particular couple that together. An older couple, much like his mother and father. The man ate his breakfast, while the woman picked at it, her head heavy in her hand. He watched her for a moment as he took a sip of his orange juice, then she started to cry hysterically. The man waved over a waiter and said a few words, before going around the table and escorting his wife out of the dining room.

He shrugged it off as nothing of importance…however, he had a nagging feeling that he couldn’t quite shake from it. As he looked around again, he took note of some of the couples. Most were childless or had older children. To him, he found it strange.

****

Breakfast had passed and Brandi came back with the bill.

He wrote a note with a joke on it and gave the room information, with a generous tip. He started to leave when he looked up and thought he saw a little boy swinging from the chandelier. He fell back, startled at the sight. Others looked at him as if he was crazy. He looked back up only to see nothing there. The chandelier, however, was still moving slightly.

A few of the staff started to come over but he waved them off, signaling that he was OK. He dusted himself off and sighed. Believing he saw things and that he just made himself look like a fool.

Simon figured he’d wager a venture outside to view the property. One of his stops being the overlook that he saw from his room. As Simon wandered through the halls to the lobby, he overheard a conversation he wasn’t happy to have stumbled upon.

“That’s the tenth case this year,” Sal stated as he wiped his brow with a white handkerchief.

“Let’s just hope that there aren’t any more freak accidents or kids that go missing. I don’t know how much more I can take, with parents finding their child dead or having them go missing while on vacation,” another employee said quietly.

Dead and missing children? What? Simon thought, confused.

He looked outside through the open doors and saw an ambulance escorting a gurney with a white sheet over it. Curiosity took the reins. “What happened?” he asked.

“Oh, dear me,” Sal jumped, startled, “ho, you gave me quite the scare.”

“I apologize,” Simon replied. “Would you care to tell me what happened, though?”

The employees looked to one another. One of the bell hops looked at Sal and waved ‘goodbye.’ The other left in haste. Eventually, they all left Sal alone with the young inquiring individual.

“Ah, well, you see, young master,” Sal hesitated. “I am not at liberty to discuss private matters you’re not privy to.”

Simon nodded. “I understand.”

A deep voice behind Simon caused him to jump. “Dead…”

Simon turned around to the man he saw earlier at the table with his wife, who had the breakdown. His face was red—flushed. His eyes pink and his person as messy as it was when he last saw him. He could tell that the man usually kept himself tidy and clean—which was comparable to how he saw the man before him now.

“Our boy died this morning.” The man seemed to reek of liquor and alcohol as he slurred the sentence.

“I am sorry for your loss,” Simon replied, saddened by the unfortunate piecing of the morning’s puzzle.

“I heard him jumping on his bed. He was laughing…and was as if he was talking to someone else in the room. The next thing we knew, we heard a thud. We didn’t think anything of it at first.” The man rubbed his face and his hair back. Trying to control his emotions. “Then—then I went in to check on him because we were going to have breakfast. He was—he was just lying there…on the floor.” The man then lost it and started to sob uncontrollably. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”

Sal came around the desk and ushered the man to another room to calm down.

Simon watched the men disappear into the room together. He could hear the sobbing of the man get more frequent and reach hysterical levels. He couldn’t help but feel sad for the man and woman.

He looked towards the doors as they started to close and the ambulance began its departure.

****

Simon wandered around outside, walking close to the edge of the cliff that gave way to the rocky bottom and shoreline. He watched the tide gently roll in and go back out. He had finally made it to the overlook. He sat down and looked at the backside of the manor and the shimmering bay. He saw boats parading around the bay, some close enough that he could still make the fine features. He remembered when he wasn’t arguing with his father or being lectured, that they used to love watching boats together. A fond memory he kept. One of the few he treasured. There were a few good memories of his mother, but after he found out about the rape and the diagnosis…

Simon shook his head. However, wasn’t the time to dwell on things that were not in his capable hands. This trip was to be one better himself…and hopefully, his parents better themselves.

As he looked out he felt a presence next to him. He looked over and saw a boy much younger than him, sit next to him. He was a short, with blond hair, eyes like the sky, and very pale. He wore an argyle sweater and dark slacks, and black dress shoes. He watched Simon closely.

“Hi,” said Simon.

The boy continued to stare at him.

“What’s your name?” Simon asked looking over at the boy.

“Robin,” replied the boy.

Simon returned his gaze back to the bay. “Do you come here often?” Simon asked.

“Sometimes. I like it.” Robin then looked out at the bay. “It’s pretty, isn’t it?”

Simon nodded. “It sure is.”

“What’s your name?” Robin asked.

“Simon.”

“How old are you?”

“14. I’ll be 15 next month,” Simon replied.

Robin began kicking his feet in and out against the cliff. “That’s cool.”

“Are you staying here?” Simon inquired.

“I live here,” Robin replied.

“Oh yeah? That’s gotta be pretty cool. To have that big of a house and all this.” Simon added.

“Yeah. I used to be lonely but I’ve made friends with the kids that come and go,” Robin said, giving a slight chill to his words.

“Yeah, I hear ya,” Simon sighed. “I get called names, made fun of, get into fights, bad situation with my parents.” Simon shook his head.

“Why don’t you leave?” Robin asked.

“Well, I can’t exactly just up and leave. I have responsibilities,” Simon replied.

“If your parents lash out at you, blame you, beat you; while others call you names, pick on you and callously disregard you…why should you bother staying around?” said Robin.

Simon chuckled. “Are you sure you’re not older?” he scanned the bay lazily. His depression starting to gnaw at him. “You seem to know me quite well, Robin.”

“I know what it was like,” said Robin. “Then one day, I vowed that I wouldn’t take it anymore. So I came here.”

“Away from your family?” Simon asked.

Robin nodded. “Yep. Now I live here. I can have fun as much as I want, no one makes fun of me, no one gives me hell for staying up late, and no one can hurt me.”

Another chill went down Simon’s back. “Well, I’m glad to see things worked out good for you, Robin.”

Robin nodded and gave a sly grin. He sighed and bit his lower lip. “The only problem is, is it gets cold in the house. Especially, at night.”

“Have you tried raising the temperature in your room?” Simon asked.

Robin shook his head. “It’s OK, it’s just something I have yet to get used to.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Simon apologized. He looked up at the sun and wagered that his parents probably would want to do something as a family. “Well, I hate to cut it short, but I have to get back. My folks might be looking for me.”

Robin nodded. “Good luck, Simon. I’ll be around…”

The voice seemed to trail off. For as Simon looked back as he made his way down the path, Robin was gone.

****

Simon made his way back to the manor and saw Stephen, sitting in the lobby with his hat in his hands.

“Hey, Stephen.”

“Oh, hey—I’m sorry, what was it again? Simon?” Stephen fumbled with his memory of the young man.

“Yeah.” Simon smiled. “Hey, by chance, did you get a good tip from my parents?”

“Yeah, your father gave a generous tip. I appreciate the thought.” Stephen gave a light chuckle.

Simon sat down near the on break bell hop. Then Simon asked the nagging question that had been on his mind since overhearing the conversation of earlier and with Robin. “Hey, do you know of the kid that died this morning?”

Stephen went blank. He looked around the lobby, at the reception desk, everywhere. “I can’t really tell you…”

“Oh, that’s OK, I understand. I was just curious.” Simon replied smiling.

Stephen leaned in close to Simon, whispering. “Ever since the youngest boy of the estate died, there has been creepy happenings all throughout the house.”

“How long ago was that?” Simon whispered.

“More than a hundred or so years ago,” Stephen replied.

“What was his name by chance?” Simon asked.

Sal called for Stephen. “Stephen, I need your help for a moment.”

“Sorry, I have to go.” Stephen rushed off to the reception desk, donning his hat.

Simon mulled over the possibility that perhaps… No, that couldn’t be right. He seemed pretty alive. Besides…

“There’s our boy.” Thomas strolled in with Nancy holding his hand.  “How are you doing, kiddo?”

“Hey mom, dad… I’m doing alright,” Simon replied.

“Good. Did you sleep well?” Thomas inquired.

“Yeah, actually, with all things considered,” Simon replied and then immediately apologized after finishing his sentence.

“It’s alright, son. Your mother and I are the ones that should be saying we’re sorry,” Thomas said.

A throbbing pain began to surge in his head, causing him to fall to his knees. He clenched his head and began to groan in pain.

“Son, Simon, are you alright?” Thomas’ voice seemed to echo.

The room spun around and soon faded to black.

****

Simon woke up and found himself in bed. The day was dark, and the room only donned in black. His right eye and cheek felt swollen. He ran his hand over his cheek and winced in pain. His right eye gave some difficulty in seeing things.

He wondered what the hell had happened, and then he remembered. After saying his remark, he was decked with a left and then a right, and was sent head first to the ground.

Go figure, he thought.

He sighed as he sat up. He thought of Robin, of the boy that had died. The boy’s parents…how they cared so much about their son.

At least he had folks that gave a damn and grieved for him.

Then he thought of the girl he ran into in the hallway. He had hoped to see her again. If anything, he needed to see her again.

****

Simon got out of bed and dressed. His parents weren’t in the room, again, something he was accustomed to. He ventured out into the hallway and began to set off for something to eat. As he wandered he felt the familiar hot and cold sensations that would occasionally pass through him. He kept going, though. He wanted to see if he could find that girl again. Even if by chance.

He took a more direct route to the dining hall and kitchen. Sure enough, he saw the girl working in the kitchen. She was still as cute as he remembered her. He felt as if his heart skipped a few beats at the sight of her.

He started to wander to the dining hall when he heard a commotion going on in the kitchen. He hurried back to see a crowd of people looking in a shaft.  Curious, he wandered into the kitchen.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“Sophie’s stuck in there,” an elderly woman in apron and hairnet replied.

“Well, maybe I can help?” Simon stated.

“Don’t be silly, you’ll probably get stuck in there too!” The woman scoffed at his offer.

Simon sensed an urgency and gambled on the whim. “Well, I guess we’ll find out.”

He rushed for the shaft and began meandering through it. “What the hell was she doing in here?” he asked aloud as he crawled.

Not far off in it, he found Sophie stuck. Her butt in his direction. “Uh, ahem,” he cleared his throat.

“Is somebody there?” the girl replied panicked.

“Yes, uh, I am, uh…behind you,” Simon replied, blushing.

“Can you help me, please?” Sophie grunted trying to get unstuck.

“Yeah, let me see.” Simon approached her and began assessing the situation.

“Is it OK if I try to maneuver you so you get unstuck?” Simon asked.

“What? What kind of question is that? Of course!” Sophie slammed her palms down on the shaft that trapped her.

“You know…people…society nowadays,” Simon grumbled.

He began trying to maneuver her hips, legs, and feet. “You’re pant leg is stuck. I’m going to try and rip at the seam, alright?”

“Wouldn’t it just be easier then to take my pants off?” Sophie replied.

Simon felt his face turning red. “Uh, I don’t think that’d be necessary.”

He tugged on the fabric and tried to tear it. Finally, it gave way, letting the girl’s leg free, and caused a kick to Simon’s head.

Something else also gave way in that shaft. Accidentally or intentionally, all according to one’s plan…something. Simon and Sophie fell into an abandoned room.

The pair coughed and dusted them off.

“Are you alright?” Simon asked, helping Sophie up to her feet.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she replied, looking at her rescuer. “I know you, from yesterday, right?”

Simon nodded, “Yeah. I’m Simon.”

“Sophie,” she smiled. “Well, thanks for helping me.”

Simon chuckled. “Well, I don’t know if it was of much help. I mean…the state of things we’re in now.”

There was very little light in the room. It was nothing but old gray bedrock that smelled of must and of an age that had since long past. On one wall, there was a small door, one that no one no bigger than a child could go through.

Simon felt drawn to this door as if being told to go to it and open it.

“What is that?” Sophie asked.

“Let’s find out,” said Simon as he walked over to the small door.

Sophie looked around the dark room. “This place gives me the creeps.”

In the shaft, debris could still be heard falling, while voices called for the pair that now wandered into foreign territory.

Simon crouched down and reached for the small wooden door. He opened it and found a small tunnel. He fumbled around in his pockets and pulled out his cellphone. He switched on the light and scanned around. Both behind him and in the tunnel.

“How about you stay here and I’ll take a look?” Simon asked Sophie.

“Oh, hell no, I am not going to stay here in the dark. I’ve seen enough horror movies.”

Simon laughed genuinely. A warm feeling overcame him while in the presence with Sophie.

Slowly, the pair began to investigate the tunnel. A horrible smell would strike at their senses ever so often.

“Ugh, what died down here?” Sophie asked.

After some time of crawling, Simon asked, “Where do you think this goes?”

“I have no idea. I just started here a few months ago,” Sophie replied.

“Did you hear about the boy who died this morning?” Simon inquired.

“Yeah, pretty sad,” Sophie replied empathetically.

They came across various toys in the tunnel: a red tricycle, a round leather ball, a wooden horse…

Then they came across a skeleton. One was in the fetus position on the floor.

“Oh my God, oh my God,” Sophie clung to Simon. “Is that…is that a skeleton?

“Yeah, it looks like it.” Simon examined the remains. “Looks like a child.”

“What the hell happened in here?” Sophie asked.

Simon’s phone flickered on and off. He smacked it against his palm. The light came back on and he shined it in front of his path. In front of him was a decrepit little boy that was enraged at the sight. He hissed and snarled at the pair.

“What are you doing here?!” the boy yelled.

“I was just trying to help her out and we fell,” Simon panicked in his reply. “We don’t mean you any harm.”

The boy then gained composure and smiled at Simon. “I got you good,” It laughed.

Simon stared confused. “Wait…Robin?”

“Ah, you got me,” he giggled. “Or should have I gone, ‘boo!’?”

“You…you’re a ghost?” Simon was dumbfounded.

“Yeah. I have been for a while.” Robin sighed. He pointed at the skeleton on the ground, “That’s me.”

“What happened?” Simon asked.

“Well, remember I said I had run away? I had found the room when they were building. I used to come in here to play by myself. To get away from others—my family.” Robin sighed. “I don’t remember much, but my dad had found me and began to beat me. I only remember waking up and trying to leave. Unfortunately, the was door sealed, and the room at the end of the hall was sealed off.” He shrugged at the two, “My family’s dark secret. Congratulations, you two know it now.”

“That’s horrible,” Simon and Sophie both said.

“I grew lonely over the years…but other kids began to notice me. Those who were neglected, beaten, had a void in their life. So, I began making friends. I’d often ask them if they’d want to join me in having fun forever.” Robin looked down at the ground, then back at Simon and Sophie.

“So, the kids that have died over the years…is because of you?” Simon asked.

“Yes…and no,” Robin replied. “I never forced anyone to stay here. I never killed anyone, or hurt anyone. I only freed them—gave them a choice. I was there when they’d make their choice. When all hope was lost, when everything in life seemed to be stacked against them. When no one else noticed them, I was the one that was there to guide them.”

“Robin, you know there were…there are a lot of sad parents, though, right?” Simon said.

“I do, and I feel bad. I only wanted other kids to be happy. I thought giving them release would be the way.” Robin then sighed. “You understand what it’s like, don’t you, Simon?”

Simon nodded. “I do. However, there is always another way.” He looked back at Sophie.

Robin looked to Sophie. “Are you enjoying yourself here?” he asked.

“W—what do you mean?” Sophie replied.

“You’ve been alone for some time. You—” Sophie cut Robin off.

“You don’t know who I am or what I’ve been through.”

Simon felt sad for Sophie. He knew she was withholding a lot. “Sophie, c’mon, let’s get out of here.”

“Robin, can you help us out of here?” Simon asked.

“Sure.” Robin flickered as a manifestation and then vanished. He then passed through the two teenagers.

Cold shivers ran down their spines, as they started to turn back.

Once they were back in the room, Robin pointed at the shaft above them. “That’s your ticket out.”

“We can’t reach that.” Said Simon.

“Use your phone and call for help. They should have done so already, but with help like nowadays, who knows. No offense, Sophie.” Said Robin.

“I’ll come back for you, Robin.” Said Simon.

“Sort yourselves out. We’re all fine here.” Robin replied.

Then, other children, of all ages, sizes, and genders came into the room.

Sophie gasped at the sight of all the departed children, “My God, there are so many.”

Robin smiled at the pair. “Remember, you’re always welcome to stay with us, should you ever want to.”

****

Soon enough, the phantoms all vanished. Simon then tried calling the reception desk to try and get help. After a while, rescue crews came and got Simon and Sophie out. Investigators found the remains of Robin Cornelius Crystal Jr.

As it was a family tradition, he was to be buried in the estates’ cemetery. Simon was greeted by his parents. The thought that perhaps his parents would be happy to see him, that maybe they missed him, that maybe, just maybe…they cared that he was down in a hole, with no hopes of seeing the lights of day. It was all for naught.

They had dragged him back to their room and scolded him. Slapping him upside the head, across the mouth. Pushed him against the wall, kicked him when he was down. His father’s new method and attempts of trying patience were all gone. He unleashed Hell upon his son, with his mother in hot pursuit. While he was getting pelted by slaps, fists full of anger, and kicks to the gut, he thought of Robin. He also thought of the time, although it was brief, with Sophie.

After the beating had ended. Simon overheard his mother on the phone with his psychiatrist. She called him a sham, and that he had ripped them off; that this ‘family’ trip was a farce. The medication he suggested for Simon had no effect. As he laid on the floor and listened to his parents argue over divorce and hurled more insults at one another, a voice came to him.

Remember, you’re always welcome to stay with us, should you ever want to.

“Robin…” Simon called out.

Nothing.

“Robin…will you help me?” Simon asked aloud.

He heard his parents take note of him talking to himself. Both exchanged insults over who he inherited being crazy from. Then there was the notion that his mother wasn’t raped, but in fact, had cheated on his father with his best friend. His father disregarded it and said he slept with her best friend in retaliation, that he already knew the truth. That the tumor diagnosis was all a ruse to gain sympathy and she had secretly bribed a doctor.

The voices, slapping…everything drowned out to nothing.

“I’m here, Simon,” said Robin. “We’re all here.”

Robin and the other kids all began to appear, coming through the walls. All staring at the battered teenager on the floor.

Simon reached to his feet and opened the window. He looked out to the bay. “Does it—will it hurt?”

“Only for a moment. After that, you will no longer feel any pain,” said Robin.

Simon stepped up onto the ledge and sat down on it. He began thinking about Sophie. “She’s the only one that may actually miss me.”

Robin replied, “No, she won’t.”

Simon dropped his head.

“Because I’m here too…” said Sophie as she appeared coming through the wall.

He smiled as he saw her, and also felt saddened that she had died too.

“It was my choice, Simon. Just as it is yours. We’re all with you. We can all be together and be here. Forever.” Sophie said as she walked over and caressed his cheek. A cold shiver ran down his spine.

“What the hell was that?” Simon heard his parents turn their attention to his room.

Thomas and Nancy threw open the door. All the hate, all the shame, the mistrust…everything…went out the window. Their hearts heavy—they both choked at the sight that befell them.

“Simon, no—no, please, don’t,” they pleaded.

“You only care about yourselves, your money. You never cared about me. Not even when I was a baby. You have hated me since day one,” Simon said, the words biting harshly. Thomas tried to take a step forward. “No! Don’t, don’t even try, because I will go.”

“Simon, please, son, we’re sorry. We’re just going through a tough time,” Thomas pleaded.

“A tough time, huh? I’ve been nothing but a tough time for you both. I was nothing but a mistake. A costly mistake. I am tired—so, so tired of the beatings, being called names; by you and all the kids at school. Being made fun of, telling me that I am fat. Laughing and making a mockery of my suicide attempts. Why aren’t you saying ‘Do it! Do it now, you son of a bitch!’ huh?”

Thomas slowly took a step towards Simon. “Simon, I know you’re in pain…I am sorry. I—I don’t know what came over me. I want to make things right.”

“Don’t you do it, Simon. Don’t you fucking do it!” Nancy shouted hysterically.

“Funny. You all of a sudden now care. No more tax credit. No more leeching. Just think, though, no more bills. No more debt because of me. Now you can work, party, lie, cheat, steal from each other, and despise one another without me to be in the middle.” Simon began to start crying. “All I ever wanted…was to be loved by you. For you to be there for me. To stick up for me.”

“We hear you, Simon. Come down from there and we’ll help you.” Thomas said as he inched closer.

“No!” Simon snapped back. “I know you. You think you know me, but I—I know you. That’s why…that’s why I am going on my terms and by my own free will.” Simon then let go of the window sill and ledge.

“No, Simon!” Both parents screamed. Thomas dove for his son, grazing his backside. Feeling him slip through his fingertips.

Simon fell from up high and landed upon the rocky shoreline of Crystal Bay, far beneath the manor.

He later awoke and found himself wandering the estate. He wandered up to the cliff that jutted out into the bay, where he first met Robin. Here he found Robin sitting. He sat down next to him. Sophie came over and sat down next to him as well. She put her hand in his, while the three of them stared on at the boats that sailed in the bay.

****

While authorities carried out the bodies of Sophie and Simon, the other kids that had died played throughout the house. Some rode banisters down or swung from the chandeliers.

After a time spent at the manor, Simon took notice that some of the kids would disappear for a little while. Robin said they’d often pay visits to their parents from time to time. Simon wagered he could pay his parents a visit but decided against it. That he’d rather stay there at the manor, with Sophie at his side, watching the boats and other kids.

THE END


Taken from my anthology, Abnormal Side Effects
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