Welcome back to Abby the Hero. Last time (click that for Part 1) I essentially said that I want to understand the reasons that we hide things away from ourselves and what sort of events spur us on to the revelation, showing us those items that we’ve hidden in plain sight. I suspect I will eventually move on from gnawing on this particular bone, but it seems to be the cause du jour, and I’m riding the muse all the way to the end of the line.
You’ll likely notice a few similarities to I Was Born for the Stage: a young woman in peril. A mysterious building. A force driving her forward. Abby, however, is a few years older, and has a bit more agency to resist those forces. Her internal monologue and language palette tends to the melodramatic (part and parcel of the teen years). But she’s finding her way in the world and stumbling upon some hidden truths about herself, where Elsbeth’s discoveries had more to do with the external world.
I didn’t plan it this way, but I see a developing internal narrative to where this is all going, and I suspect Abby is the end state, which is why I feel compelled to say a bit more about it.
You can read Part One here.
On with the tale…
A comforting sense of familiarity washed over Abby as she ascended the stairs. It had to be the first positive emotion that she had felt in the place, and it threw her off even more than the oppression and sadness that had been hammering her over the head. She paused, running a hand over the banister. She couldn’t say exactly why the polished wood felt so utterly familiar under her skin. Had she been here before?
That’s impossible. You’d remember a place like this, no doubt.
Her mind told her that, but her emotions didn’t feel so sure. After some time she gave up on figuring it out. Maybe this place wasn’t meant to be solved. She pushed herself toward the landing again, taking one stair at a time. As she neared the top a pair of phantom voices spoke up, their echoes betraying their unearthly nature.
“You always get to go first.”
“That’s ‘cause I’m the best.”
Abby’s stomach wrenched and a wave of déjà vu overcame her, threatening to wash away all consciousness. Here it was at last, the thing that she had secretly wished to see, and her body reacted with nausea and an intense desire to run away.
Well, fuck that, she thought, and climbed the remaining few stairs two at a time. When she reached the top she stopped and turned toward the source of the voices, somewhere off to her right.
After a moment of silence a pair of ghostly images appeared through the door at the end of the hall. They raced toward her, insubstantial but clear enough to make out a haze of features on each face. She fought the nausea down, summoning the presence of mind to pull Trudy from her case. She raised the camera, spotted the ghostly images on its tiny screen, and snapped just as they reached her, rushing through her body in a tide that made her entire body tingle.
She stood still, letting the sensation wash over her and fade before she dared to look at the image she had captured.
A picture of a half-open doorway, just barely visible in the gloom of the landing and the dying sunlight leaking over its threshold.
No phantoms. Not even a hint of anything unusual.
Abby didn’t think she was going crazy, but she couldn’t entirely rule out the possibility. She sighed and pulled the night vision attachment from her bag, slipping it over Trudy’s lens. Night time rapidly approached; soon even the sensitive camera wouldn’t be able to compensate for the darkness in the house.
She lifted the camera and watched the world through the green-tinted screen. A few steps down the hall and she reached for the door, pushing it open, her own hand looking like an apparition.
She had expected a bedroom, or maybe a study. She had not expected a classroom. Who the hell had a classroom like this in their house?
You know, whispered a voice at the back of her mind.
No, she didn’t. She hadn’t expected the whiteboard on the other side of the room, its surface covered in neat, adult handwriting and childlike scrawls, difficult to make out through the night vision but there nonetheless. She definitely hadn’t expected the three small desks that she discovered in the center of the room. The desks faced the whiteboard, each featuring a small desk-top lamp, one of those curved things that she associated with her own father’s study.
She walked to one and pressed the button on its base, not expecting much but figuring the attempt would be worth the effort. She nearly let out a yelp when the light came on, suffusing the room with a warm yellow glow.
Abby turned off the night vision and snapped some pictures of the desk and the lamp, letting the lamp’s halo and the shadows it cast dictate the world that she captured. She couldn’t quite shake the sense of being in a world both alien and familiar. It continued to tug at something in the back of her mind, but she pushed forward, hoping that the simple act of photography would wash it away.
Not really working though, Abby thought, and began to explore the room. Books lined the shelves to the right of the whiteboard; she approached them, wondering what titles she might find in a place like this. A thick layer of gray ash lay over the tops of the books, and again she wondered if something had burned here. She studied the spines, but the titles appeared to swim for a moment, becoming swirls of black liquid. At last they resolved into glyphs that she couldn’t decode. Electronic books? Some sort of foreign language that she had never seen? She had no idea. She reached out to touch one, hesitated, and drew back. She had no idea what might be in that ash.
She turned and faced the other end of the room, spying a larger desk on the opposite side. A few plodding steps and she stood before it, gazing down at the desk’s contents in the spread of the lamp’s warm light.
Most of it was the standard school stuff: a moldy English textbook with a laughing girl on the cover, a pile of papers strewn here and there, and a can full of pens and pencils. It had little in the way of individual personality, save for one minor touch, a framed photo that sat on the right-hand edge of the desk, nearly forgotten, looking as if it had been untouched this whole time.
She picked up the photo and touched it, running one finger over the glass that covered the photo. The faces on the photo confirmed her sickest suspicions after seeing those ghosts in the hallway.
The wide, smiling face of her sister, Paula dominated the left-hand side of the photo. To the right her dour brother Daniel leaned against Paula, a rare grin plastered onto his dark face. And in between, down on her knees in what she knew to be an unseen soccer pitch…
She touched the glass surface that covered her smiling face. She didn’t know how to understand what she saw; part of her mind denied that she had ever sat for this photo, and yet another knew every detail of that day, down to the feel of her brother’s hand on her left shoulder.
As she embraced that part of her mind, vague recollections of the house began to surface, half-buried beneath the mists of some great, nameless, faceless event that she couldn’t quite unearth. She closed her eyes and let them come. She remembered the banister now; she could almost feel it on her thighs as she slid down, giggling with glee. She remembered chasing her sister down the hall, telling her that she always got to go first.
This is impossible, she thought, but she found herself increasingly unfamiliar with the reality around her – could it be true? Maybe.
She turned the photo over and cocked her head when she found something scrawled on the back in thick black marker. At first she thought this to be the strange glyphs from the books but saw that, no, it was just her sister’s messy handwriting:
The Cellar Key is in the drawer
She had to investigate this. She put the photo down and circled the desk, discovering that it did indeed have one drawer on its right hand side. She slid the drawer out and found a mess of pens, pencils, staples, erasers, and markers. She dug through the detritus, determined to find this key.
At last her fingers closed on something large and metal. She tried to pull at it but found that it resisted her. She cleared away the crap in the drawer, at last uncovering an ornate brass key. It had been Scotch taped to the wooden base, and it took only a moment of prying at the edges of the tape to free it.
She held it up in the dim light, studying the interlocking design at the top of the key. Something familiar stirred in the back of her mind. Something to do with another camera, a memory that escaped as soon as she grasped for it.
The cellar it would be. She shivered to think about what might be down there.
You can read Part 3 here!