Extracts

Unexpected


The Narrow Hallway by Barbara Strickland

I,
I am the Watcher
The Silence Seeker
I caretake, I do not partake
I am what you make me
(Guardian Code 1AD)

Part One: Bella

The Watcher
I have been ordered to become a Guardian. Arrogant arseholes sitting on their white leather couches, sipping their tea, have decided I have to take on the nuisance of a charge. I could accept the directive but she’s four years old. What the hell do I know about children? Fucking children, fucking doorways and fucking narrow hallways, why can’t they leave me alone? Why am I being dragged into this now? Talk about after the fact, total dickheads! I was happy to sit in that beautiful darkness, alone, still and silent and away from the bullshit they call illumination. I take a deep breath and try to ignore the anger. It doesn’t do anything for the situation, anger never does but it lives underneath my skin and it burns to get out. I breathe again and push it pack, push it down deep so that my skin is smooth again. See I can be reasonable I tell myself. Now which fucking door do I need to open to get to the hallway.

Bella
She wasn’t really doing anything wrong. She just wanted to go next door and see her friend. Margaret was always allowed to come to her place but Bella could never go there, go to Margaret’s house unless someone came with her. She didn’t understand why because she was a big girl now and smart. She was going to school soon because the nuns said she could. She was there when the old nun, Sister Maria Bernadette, told her Papa how smart she was. Normally they didn’t take you when you were only four but Bella was special, Papa kept telling her she was.
She struggled with the latch on the gate. Usually she was with someone and had never opened it by herself. She was frightened her Mama would hear the noise. Bella had picked a time when her Mama was busy with cooking and Papa was working in the garden. Her tiny fingers finally succeeded and she gave a little yelp of happiness and then covered her mouth. She felt her lips pull up in a little sly grin and she carefully pushed the gate forward and turned to close it just as
silently.
Margaret lived next door. It was a strange entrance sharing a concrete archway of close to five metres with the house next door. Bella’s house was very different and completely detached from the homes either side. Bella knew Margaret and her family would be in the kitchen at the back of the house baking. Margaret’s mum was a good baker and made lots of delicious sweet things. Her little mouth watered at the thought as she entered the concrete tunnel. Maybe she thought excitedly they could play in the yard after eating some of the goodies. Papa and Mama never let her eat at other places but Margaret would sneak things to her. Margaret had a big doll’s house under one of the trees that her daddy had built for her. Bella could see it through the gaps in the back yard fence. She clapped her hands in glee and missed the silent shadow that followed her inside the blue painted walls.
She heard it once it was closer to her. The sound of breathing, sloppy breathing that sent waves of hot air to hit her neck, hot air that seem cloying as it stirred the brown ringlets hanging over her shoulders. The thing behind her was close and making terrible growling sounds. The sounds were loud, scary and it was so big. She could see it was by the menacing shadow on the concrete wall. It couldn’t really be that big, could it?

The Watcher
The narrow alley and the little four-year girl trotting down to see her friend became a living tableau of colour and sounds. The hallway I traversed daily was brown, drab and depressing. Even the door was drab and depressing. The pale blue paint instead gave the small tunnel like-path a feeling of the sea. I smiled a little watching the child. She was so pleased with herself, at the way she had snuck out to go and find her friend. So intent on her…