Timestand ~ Extract Three

from Chapter Fifteen ~ Toys

He zipped up his black fleece, put away his lock pick, pulled on his calfskin gloves and opened the door. The silence reassured him that the white box with its single flashing light was only a dummy alarm. Either that or possibly someone was at home.

The house was dark and silent. Not a single lamp was on. Normally that would mean someone around the house, probably sleeping upstairs. People were much more likely to use lamps when they were out, thinking this would fool people like him. He was no stranger to reverse psychology, although he certainly wouldn’t have understood the term. He was careful not to make a sound.

Thoughtfully wiping his feet on the mat so as not to leave any sole-prints (not that he wore rare shoes that could be traced back to him) – and also because he didn’t believe in inflicting a cleaning bill on top of the other inconvenience, he moved into the hall.

There were a number of doors leading off from the hall, all of them closed. Normally the downstairs wouldn’t be of much interest – the good stuff should be upstairs – but it was worth a quick wander around. He’d found good diamond earrings discarded on a coffee table before – not that he entirely understood why they had been left there. Being a tidy person who felt gnawing irritation if things weren’t put back in just the right place, he felt that anyone who left valuables lying around deserved to lose them, especially to someone like him who even had a particular pocket in his coat for earrings. But he burgled tidy people too – if he was going to retire in five years, he couldn’t afford to be fussy.

He opened the first door on the left and was startled when a sheet of paper, flapping in the air current from the movement of the door, fell past his face. It landed on the floor, shouting the words ‘Welcome To The Madhouse’ up at him in large letters.

He calmed his breathing and walked into the room which, in the light of his torch, he discovered was the lounge. He sized up the room and, not having any interest in glasses, even if they were lead crystal, walked back into the hall. The sheet of paper, which he had not touched, was blank. He looked at it curiously. Must be his mind playing tricks, he thought, maybe he was getting too old for this. He looked down again. ‘Welcome To The House Of Fun’ said the paper.

He scratched his head. Must have misread it before, he thought, and the light must have hit it at a strange angle to make it look blank earlier.

He opened the door to the cupboard under the stairs. He took out the vacuum cleaner but there didn’t seem to be anything of interest behind it. Just some dusters, polishes, a mop languishing in the corner, looking for all the world like a stick man with floppy hair. But how could it look like a man, he thought, with the mop head on the floor? He was sure it had been the other way up when he first looked at it. Next to the mop, a piece of paper was blu-tacked to the wall. He turned his torch onto it. ‘What Are You Up To, Old Man?’ said the paper. “Who are you calling old?” he muttered to himself, turning around to see another sheet of paper on the back of the cupboard door. ‘I’m Calling You Old,’ it said. He almost dropped his torch.

He took deep breaths. It’s an obvious thing for someone to say if they’re called old, he thought to himself. It’s the obvious thing to write as a follow-up, if you were trying to freak someone out.

He looked in the dining room but was not interested in the vases or dinner service. The cutlery was probably silver but would be too heavy, too noisy. There would be better stuff higher, he thought. The last door had to be the kitchen and kitchens were never worth looking at – for every house where jewels were tucked away in the cake tins, there were fifty-three with smelly food in the cupboards, some of it past its sell-by date. He shivered at the thought of it and began walking up the stairs.

The seventh step creaked and the eighth step rustled. He swung his torch down and realised he had stepped on a sheet of paper. ‘Leave Now Or It Will Be Bad For You,’ it said. He smiled – they obviously thought a few minor scares would make up for no alarm. He scanned the remaining steps with his torch for any other cheap deterrents – any mousetraps, whoopee cushions, bubble wrap – but he saw nothing. And yet, as he carried on walking, the very next step rustled under foot as he crumpled another note. He looked down. ‘Nice Calfskin.’

This was ridiculous, he thought, reaching the upstairs landing. He went into the master bedroom and opened the first cupboard. It was empty. Strange, he thought, opening the next cupboard, which was also empty. He opened all of the cupboards. They were all empty.

He opened the cupboard in the dressing table – it was also empty apart from a jewellery box. This is more like it, he thought, opening the box to find nothing but what seemed like freshly mown grass cuttings. He shook it out onto the carpet, abandoning his idea of being a ‘decent’ and clean burglar. He smelt the grass as it fell, spiralling and corkscrewing through the air and yet it never seemed to hit the floor. Its aroma hung in the air but the grass was nowhere to be seen.

The lights went on suddenly. He whirled around to see no one standing in the doorway by the light switch. It didn’t look the sort of light which could operate on a time switch. Probably this new-fangled wiring, he thought to himself, it’ll stay on until around eleven to make it look like someone’s here and going to bed at a normal time. That thought was going around his head as the light switched off again.

He turned around and saw that all of the cupboards which he had left open were now closed. He opened one of them again – it was absolutely stuffed full of clothes.

His heart was beating too hard, the blood pumping through his body so quickly he heard whistling in his ears.

A sheet of paper fluttered past his face. He caught it. ‘I Bet You Think This Beats Working, Don’t You?’

Moving as quickly yet calmly as he could, he went back out onto the landing. The landing was covered in sheets of paper. ‘Does Your Wife Know What You Do?’ ‘Do Your Kids Know Where Their Toys Come From?’ ‘Do You Have Any Other Offences Which You Would Like Taken Into Consideration?’ ‘Are You Going To Make It Out Of Here Alive?’

He walked down the stairs but he never seemed to get any closer to the bottom. Every time he took a step downwards, he found himself on the same step. He walked more quickly but it made no difference. Finally, he tried jumping down, only to find himself hitting the upstairs landing again. The papers had all gone.

In front of him, a door slammed.

Right, he thought, walking towards it, time to get to the bottom of this. There’s no such thing as ghosts, he thought. A hand in the small of his back shoved him into the door. He whirled around but there was nobody there.

He ran back towards the stairs but found himself reaching the slammed door instead. It opened in front of him and a hand shoved him through the doorway.

It appeared to be a dining room. In fact, he realised slowly and painfully, it was the dining room he had already looked at when he had been downstairs. He walked slowly back to the door, opened it, looked longingly at the downstairs hall and stepped through the doorway. He found himself upstairs again.

The same door slammed again. Suddenly he was moving towards it. He was not walking but his body was drifting across the carpet of the upstairs landing towards the closed door. He was accelerating. He tried walking, then running, away from the door but it made no difference. No matter how many times he tried turning away, the door was always in front of him. No matter which direction he tried to move in, he continued towards the door. He braced himself to hit the door but found he appeared to pass through it. The porcelain ‘Tim’s Room’ doorplate did not hit him on the nose after all.

A wallet was on the bed. He picked it up and opened it. It was his own. All of the money had been replaced by pieces of paper cut to the size of banknotes. They all said the same thing: ‘Game Over – You Lose’.

The door creaked and he whirled around, shining his torch at the door. The door slowly swung closed. A man in a dark coat was inside the room, standing just beside the door, just out of the pool of light from his torch. The man was looking at him. He pointed his torch at him but there was only a mop standing there.

“I’m behind you,” said a voice from behind him. He swung around. The mop was behind him, it toppled, fell towards him.

“I’m still behind you,” said the same voice again. He swung around again. The mop was there, wearing a dark coat.

“No, no,” said the voice, “the other behind you. Over here.” A hand tapped him on the shoulder. “So, what do you think? Are you going to make it out of here alive?”

“Yes I will,” he shouted, turning around to see the man in the black coat in front of him.

“Are you sure?” asked the other man. He held out his hand and suddenly a long butcher’s knife appeared in his palm. He tightened his fingers around the handle. And suddenly, without the burglar noticing the other man’s arm moving, the handle was pressing against his stomach with the blade nowhere to be seen.

He shrieked. He felt no pain but assumed his body was shutting down and saving him from the worst. He knew it was only a matter of time before a burning, tearing sensation flooded through him, only a matter of time before the room faded to darkness, only a matter of time before his whole pathetic life ended. What a waste…

The man in the black coat opened his fist and the handle fell to the floor. The blade was not attached to it. He frantically patted his own stomach but realised the blade was not there either.

“Just my little joke,” said the man in the black coat. He picked up the knife handle and, flicking a small catch in the side, made the fake blade spring back out of the handle. And with that, he vanished.

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