Twilight Heights, book 3: Christopher

Chapter 1

Christopher started at a slow pace and then ran as fast as he could.

He‘d show them now! He ran towards the wall at full speed, leaping up at the last minute, bending backwards, throwing his left foot forward, followed by his right foot and then his thighs.

Now for the difficult part.

He could feel his landing wouldn’t be quite right, so he decided to propel himself into a quick loop to land on his back instead of trying to land feet-first.

Even if the landing wasn’t as good as he’d hoped, he heard a smattering of applause behind his back.

“Wow! That was awesome, man!”

“Totally insane! You can sure see who has been training really hard this winter.”

“Cool!”

Christopher blushed with pleasure. He’d gotten some help from Coach Rick, but his results were mostly thanks to diligent training every free moment he got. This was the jump the parkour-group had been practicing all winter, but only indoors, with a thick gym mattress, a ground trampoline or a pit full of foam cubes to break the fall. Trying the jump outdoors, where slamming in to a concrete pavement could be dangerous, was a totally different experience.

So he used every opportunity to train outdoors and had found some good places in Twilight Heights: John’s Park; the big area between the old and the new quarters, the playground next to the kindergarten and the site behind his father’s bakery; but now Christopher had found an even better spot.

Or you might call it a dream come true.

The guys were very excited when Christopher told them he’d found the best possible training site for the whole team. When he mentioned The Ruins they got even more excited. Actually, it was amazing that they hadn’t realized it sooner; this place was ideal for parkour-training, and they were all familiar with it. Except Eli, of course, who was a relative newcomer to Twilight Heights.

Leaving their bags and coats in the gym, they ran out into the glorious sunshine. It was late May, the chirping of birds mingled with the whoops and taunts of the boys, and the ground was burgeoning with new green sprouts shooting up into the world.

At one time the road towards the Heights had been paved, and there had also been a sidewalk with large flagstones and majestic lampposts. But that was a long time ago, and since maintenance wasn’t strictly necessary anymore, it had been discontinued. The street and the sidewalk were pitted all over and in the summer tufts of grass, weeds and dandelions grew from the cracks. Many of the lampposts were in bad shape; some were bent and twisted or lay on the street but others still stood, dignified like old generals surveying the battlegrounds after the war.

When they arrived at The Ruins Christopher stopped, spread out his arms and exclaimed triumphantly, “Ta-da!”

The grounds were almost perfect for all kinds of jumps, rolls, climbs and loops. In some places stairs rose from the ground and ended in nothing, high up in the air, balconies opened from apartments where no one lived, single walls that had once been part of an enclosure stood deserted and just asked for someone to run up their sides, windows with no glass shouted “Jump through me!” and last but not least, there were crevices, holes, pits and hollows to jump over, all over the place.

And no adults to interfere!

Nobody who would ooh and aaah and gulp over foolhardy jumps.

Nobody who would forbid them to use the grounds as they pleased.

Nobody who would complain about disturbance or noise.

Abandoned ruins–what could be more perfect?

Chapter 2

After Christopher’s stunt the other boys were eager to try, so they spent a while jumping and free running and exploring. Christopher watched his best friend Ron trying the stunt Christopher had executed almost perfectly and was proud of his own achievement when Ron didn’t do quite as well.

They were lively and active boys and good friends in spite of their age difference. Ron was in 9th grade like Christopher, and they were not only classmates, but also best buddies. They shared an interest in snowboarding and movies and played the same video games. They even looked a bit similar and had been asked more than once if they were brothers, although Ron was lighter and his features more coarse. Both had dark hair and were rather tall and thin. Christopher was a few inches taller than his friend, a source of constant irritation for Ron, and Christopher’s hair grew a bit curly when it was too long, a source of constant irritation for him.

Siggy Snowden was a year younger, 13 going on 14. He was a cheerful boy and good at parkour. His cousin was member of a parkour-group in Sunnydale and sometimes he trained with them. Once both groups got together to hold a training session. That had been truly fantastic!

Then there was Eli, who had earned the nickname Daredevil. He was small and energetic, almost strawberry blond, quick and fast like a hamster on a wheel. Sometimes he shocked the other boys with his boldness. Their old coach had given him a pretty long leash in the training sessions, but Rick, their new coach, reined Eli in early in the first session and threatened him with dismissal if he didn’t slow down a bit; if you didn’t use the right technique and know how to fall, land and roll correctly, you could end up with some serious injuries.

Baldur was the eldest, a reliable and solid, blond and pale, he got along well with everybody. The other boys in 10th grade quit last autumn, when indoor training began, but Christopher hoped Baldur would finish training with the rest of them this spring and next summer. If the group lost more members, the local sports union probably wouldn’t arrange more training.

The parkour-group had high hopes for Coach Rick. He worked in the Youth Centre, a cheerful guy who got through to the boys and had a sincere interest in their projects. He had even suggested to the local council that instead of getting a regular summer job, kids could sign up for the parkour-group and perform on the national day festival and at other neighbourhood and town celebrations. Now there were five members, but they had to be at least ten to put together an impressive act.

The team’s morale was high and all the guys were ecstatic over these newly discovered training grounds. Actually they weren’t sure that they would tell Rick. Even if he was a good friend and companion, they suspected that his views would be more “adult” when it came to The Ruins. He would never approve of using this area for training. It was incredible how people felt about it, as if this was a live minefield or something!

Christopher’s face was still warm from the praise and the exercise and to hide his awkwardness, he suggested a tour of the area. It would be great if they found, for instance, running water to slake their thirst.

“Great idea,” said Ron and pounded away, with Siggy and Eli at his heels.

“Are you coming, Baldur?”

“No, I pass. I’ll keep watch outside while you look.”

“No problem.” Christopher ran to catch up with the others.

Chapter 3

After climbing over broken glass from a window, scraps of wood and some rocks, the boys entered a spacious lobby in building no. 8. From there stairs reached up to the first floor and down into the basement.

Christopher immediately ran down the stairs to the basement and the other boys followed.

Old bicycles, baby strollers and car wheels had been shoved under the stairs, while in a corner behind all this stuff, all kinds of wooden boards lay in bundles and heaps. Eli started rummaging in this collection, as he was inordinately interested in things other people called junk. Christopher and Ron examined a row of storage doors while Siggy watched listlessly.

Christopher noticed a storage door labelled 3D, the only relatively undamaged and unsealed door.

“Hey guys! Do you see this?”

“Let’s open it!” Ron asked, suddenly appearing by his side.

“You think that’s a good idea?”

“Just as good as jumping and free running in the ruins.” Ron reached for the doorknob and the door creaked open.

A strange smell filled their noses: a mixture of mildew, dust, dirt and mould, but somehow not really bad. Rather just really old.

It was pitch black inside and they couldn’t see a thing. Christopher grabbed Ron’s arm when he was about to enter.

“Are you crazy? You can’t see where you are going! There could be a gap right in front of your toes or a wall in front of your nose. Take it easy.”

“Hey guys, I’m bored. I’m going outside to check on Baldur,” Siggy announced. The boys muttered something, too preoccupied to pay any attention.

“Eli, are you coming?”

“No, I’m just … I’m going to …” came the answer from the wood pile.

Christopher and Ron peered curiously into the storage room but it was too dark. Ron opened his mobile and used it as a torch to light up the room. They saw vague outlines of shelves on both walls, filled with stuff, but couldn’t see clearly what they held.

“Wow,” Ron said, “this is insane! Just imagine, this place could be full of all kinds of stuff we could scavenge, maybe something undamaged and useful!”

“Do you really think so? I think this is just some old and broken junk.”

“Look, there is a window.” In spite of Christopher’s warning, Ron was already deep inside the room. A small and narrow window sat high on the wall, almost touching the ceiling; it was covered in dirt and the greenery outside was thick enough to block almost all daylight. Ron pulled and shoved the window clasp until he finally managed to crack it open and then he pushed the window out with a huge effort, far enough for a dim light to enter the room. Their eyes quickly adjusted to the gloom and finally they could look around.

This seemed to be a traditional storage room for the kinds of things people usually accumulate; things that weren’t useful any more or that for some reason no longer fit the style of the owners’ apartments. The storage room obviously had belonged to a family: they could deduce that from an old tricycle, a doll stroller, a 35-piece jigsaw-puzzle with a picture of a fairy princess and some board games.

Christopher thought of his little sister when he saw the stroller. Stacey was five years old and loved nothing more than dolls and “dolly things”, heaps of frills, the pinker and cuter the better.

The stroller was old and shabby and when Christopher pulled it towards him a thick cloud of dust flew up. And even worse – the cloud carried a sour smell, like the stench of vomit or sour milk.

Christopher could see almost colorless rags in the stroller, probably the remains of a blanket or a duvet. He could hardly bear to touch them, but after a while curiosity overcame his revulsion.

He reached for a corner and carefully pulled the rag towards him. The rotten stench grew steadily stronger and he had to hold his breath.

“Who died?” Ron gasped and held his nose. “Ugh! This is gross!

“Yes, the stench is …” Christopher froze.

“Ith wha’? Wha’d ya say?” Ron asked and looked over his shoulder.

He screamed!

From under the rag in the stroller two glittering eyes seemed to be staring straight at them.

Christopher threw the mouldy blanket back. Dust billowed and the stink was unbearable.

Ron retched and rushed past Christopher, who stood petrified and stared at the rag that couldn’t cover the creature inside the stroller. He almost expected an attack from a crazed, wild beast, tearing him to pieces.

“Ron, wait man, don’t go. What is this thing?” He whispered the last words quietly to himself.

Wild animals do not lie still and quiet when they are disturbed … or do they? Christopher reached cautiously inside the stroller and slowly pulled the rag away. He froze again.

Inside the stroller lay a small, hideous manikin.

Chapter 4

Baldur was fed up with having to wait all alone outside the building. He decided to ignore his misgivings and walked towards the stairwell where the other boys had disappeared. There was something about this place that made the hair stand up on his head and his heart beat faster, but that could probably be blamed on all the horror stories he had heard that allegedly took place here in The Ruins.

He stopped in the spacious lobby and looked around.

Where did the boys go? It was like they had been swallowed by the earth.

Or the house!

Baldur listened. He didn’t want to explore this crumbling building on his own; he just wanted to find the other boys. He thought he heard faint voices on the next floor up, so he went up the stairs. The banisters were broken and twisted in many places, at least the ones that were still there. In the corridor on the second floor you could see through half-collapsed doorways and broken doors into dark apartments. In one place there was no apartment at all–you could see straight through to the garden and another apartment didn’t even have a doorway–just a jagged hole in the wall.

Like somebody had bombed his way out.

Yes out, not in. He looked inside but wasn’t surprised when the all he could see was a big mess.

Onwards and upwards! If he didn’t find the guys on the next floor, Baldur was determined to head back downstairs and straight out the door! He stopped on the landing, stood still and looked around. Here was the destruction was even worse than on the second floor.

Except for the door to apartment 3B!

It wasn’t just undamaged, it was like brand new! The polished wood gleamed and the knob was thoroughly buffed and shiny.

Baldur couldn’t resist the temptation. He grabbed the doorknob. He was almost too surprised to be scared.

SquEEEEEEE …

He flinched.

“Wait a minute, what is going on?” he exclaimed. “Is this someone’s idea of a joke or something?”

What he saw was too incredible to be true. The flat seemed to be completely intact, as if the family had just gone to the store and forgotten to lock the door. One step into the clean, bright hall and he was in a whole new world.

Did he dare?

Curiosity overcame fear and Baldur inched forward into the hallway. He was so excited that he didn’t notice when the front door closed softly behind him.

First a cosy living-room, a bit old-fashioned but luxuriously furnished. The kitchen seemed designed by somebody who knw what they were doing; even Baldur, who ordinarily didn’t pay much attention to furniture and interior design, could see that.

Baldur seemed almost unable to control his own feet; it was as if something pulled him towards the second room at the end of the corridor. The door was ajar and he looked inside.

“Holy …” Baldur gasped, “… look at this stuff, man, wow!”

This was obviously a boy’s room, but uncommonly tidy. The room was filled with brand new stuff, everything a boy (or a girl) could want. Baldur was fifteen and knew The Event, had happened long before he was born. This stuff hadn’t even been invented then–no way!

He walked hesitantly to the middle of the floor, stopped and looked around.

On a nightstand beside an immaculately made bed was the most expensive iPod available on the market and connected to it were totally amazing headphones, hanging on one of the bedposts. There were also impressive speakers, an LCD monitor on the wall opposite the bed, a hoodie and a pair of jeans tidily folded over the back of a chair.

An open laptop sat on the desk–it was turned on!

The screensaver hadn’t started, which meant that either the owner didn’t know the purpose of screensavers and risked destroying the screen, or the user had only recently left the computer.

No, this was too absurd. Baldur was becoming ill at ease.

He felt a cold breeze and strongly sensed a presence. He looked around but saw no one–and anyway, who could it be? It wasn’t as if anybody lived in The Ruins!

Baldur took two steps towards the desk and stretched his neck to see what was on the monitor. What he saw was another room, as if he was watching through a web cam. The other room was much shabbier than the one where he was standing. He saw dirty laundry heaped on an unmade bed, a closet … a window. He recognized what little view could be seen from the window but couldn’t recall where it was; was this maybe the home of …

Suddenly a memory popped into his mind. A boy from one of the younger classes had come to him last winter, all flustered and babbling, spouting some nonsense about a room and an accident. Then he told Baldur to be careful or he would die. Baldur had found this rather funny, convinced that somebody was pulling his leg.

He felt the goose bumps spreading from the back of his neck all the way to his fingertips.

“Phooo!”

He felt another rush of air; this time it was bitterly cold. The chill in the room was almost unbearable, even though the sun shone brightly outside the window. The feeling that someone else was in the room with him grew more intense.

Baldur thought he saw a black shadow in one of the corners.

He whipped around but saw nothing; everything was brightly lit and clear.

Again he saw something from the corner of his eye, like something skittering along the wall, just outside his field of vision. He turned quickly around but again saw nothing.

His heart was beating fast and the blood was pounding in his ears. He was certain that the warning the boy had tried to give him last winter had been about this very moment. Here and now. He was absolutely certain that he wasn’t supposed to be here. That he was in danger!

He turned on his heels and ran into the hallway. The door slammed hard behind him-he hadn’t even touched it!

He ran as fast as he could to the front door and grabbed the knob. The door was locked!

Baldur turned the lock but nothing happened.

Shit! He was locked in!

Baldur shook the knob violently and jiggled the lock back and forth. Nothing happened. Then he heard hinges squeak behind him, inside the apartment.

There was somebody else in there with him!

He didn’t dare look over his shoulder but started pounding urgently on the door.

He heard someone approach …

… Closer …

… And closer!!

Baldur almost fainted from fear when the front door suddenly burst open. He rushed out and slammed the door hard behind him, panting with terror.

“Hey man! What is going on?”

Siggy Snowden stood in front of him, still with his hand raised like he was holding a doorknob, his features a big question mark.

“I’ll tell you later–Let’s get of here right now!” Baldur hissed, grabbing hold of Siggy and running away as fast as he could. In spite of the bumps and cracks on the stairs, nothing could stop Baldur’s escape. He held on to his saviour and dragged him, stumbling, all the way to the porch.

He was never ever going in there again!