Sleeping In

A short story.

Chapter 1

by: _Ripple_
He gave the door a small push, and grinned as it swung open.
“It’s not locked.” He called over his shoulder. When there was no reply, he turned to find Chastise eying the doorway warily. She was swaying on the spot slightly, standing on her toes in order to see over his shoulder. She was biting her bottom lip. He smiled at her, in an effort to calm her nerves. She smiled back, but it was half-hearted.

“It’ll be fine.” He said. “No one’s lived in here for years. No one cares about this place anymore! We’re not gonna get in trouble for this. I just want to take a look inside.”

She took in a breath, then let it out slowly, and nodded.

“Yeah.” She said. “I guess you’re right. This just feels an awful lot like breaking in.” She laughed nervously.

“The door was open.” He said. “We don’t even have to touch anything. Come on.” He held out his hand, which she took, and together they stepped through the open doorway onto musty carpet.

He breathed in the stale air, staring around himself at the surroundings that he had once known so well. It was all so different now. The wallpaper that had been so perfect and white was now stained and faded, that is, in the areas that hadn’t been torn down and worn away at years ago. The carpet, which had been soft and light, had now mostly been stripped away but for a few dusty areas outside of the doorways. Even the ceiling had taken on a faded yellow colour. Despite himself, he smiled. This was the place that he had first called home. Inside these walls, he had played and ate and slept. In these rooms, he had brought home his first friends, his first pets, and made his first memories. Too many of these memories to concentrate on were suddenly coming flooding back, threatening to knock him over and send him tumbling.

“Mike?” Although Chastice’s voice was soft, it tore through the stillness of the house, shattering the peace and silence. Hers was a voice that had not been a part of his childhood; that had not been a part of this house. It seemed strangely out of place, and suddenly he almost wished he had not asked her to come. The feeling was immediately overcome by a wave of guilt. Perhaps he hadn’t known Chastise then, but she was certainly a part of his life now. The more he thought about it, the more this seemed like an opportunity to breach the gap between his childhood and the toil of his adult life; an opportunity to bring his two halves together. Maybe, just maybe, Chastise could be the something that he had always been looking for. The thread that he could weave through all of his old memories and wounds, filling the gaps that had so often cried out for a gentle touch and a loving hand to hold. He smiled at the thought, and squeezed Chastise’s hand a little tighter.

Together, the explored the dank and dusty rooms. With each new place they visited, a fresh wave of nostalgia would wash over him, threatening to overcome him. He held on, though, managing to hold his head above the waters that were always trying to drag him under. Occasionally he would see something that he recognised, some piece of furniture that had survived all of the long years, and he would approach it slowly, and laying a hand on it, allow all of the memories that had been stored away for countless years to engulf him completely. The nostalgia was bittersweet, and tremendously addictive. He found that he could only escape from his reverie by becoming aware once more of Chastise’s hand clinging tightly to him. Then, like a drowned man being dragged out of the water, he would clutch all the more tightly to her hand and allow her to pull him back into reality. No, he certainly didn’t regret her coming with him.

It took them some time to finish searching through the bottom storey of the house. Whenever Michael found himself facing the staircase that lead to the second storey, he dragged some other aspect of his childhood from deep within his memories, and pulled Chastise away to see what remained of it. It was only after the thousandth time this had happened that he realised there really was no way around facing it. The floorboards made no sound as he climbed them. That was strange. He seemed to remember them having creaked terribly when he was a child. This had been unfortunate, as it had made moving around the house at nighttime almost impossible. He remembered trying to slide down the banister once, on Christmas Eve, in the hopes of getting an early look at his presents without waking his parents. His actions had resulted in a broken leg- and a dreary Christmas on a hospital ward that he could not shake out of his memory; no matter how hard he tried.

It seemed as though Michael blinked, and somehow, he was standing at the top of the stairs, facing a doorway that he had not faced in almost twelve years. He glanced at the walls on either side of him, at though looking for something to help him- some excuse to leave this room untouched and leave the house at once, but instead, his eyes fell upon Chastise. It occurred to him that she had not let go of his hand since they had entered the house.
“You don’t have to go in, if you don’t want to.” She said.

Her voice was so quiet and sad that he felt she must have been feeling exactly the same whirlpool of emotions as he himself was feeling. He caught her eyes- they were the deepest shade of brown he had ever encountered- and shook his head.

“No.” He said, softly. “I want to do it. I have to.”

She smiled and nodded and said, “Let’s do it now, then.”

They both placed their hands on the door, and, after counting to three, they pushed it open together.

He fought back a cry of anger as he the dust settled and he saw what had been done to the room; it died in his through as a groan. Even Chastise beside him gasped. Neither of them had been expecting this; neither of them had been prepared. Michael realised his hands were shaking, and almost as soon as he did, he found he had no strength left to stand. He was ready to fall to his knees, when he felt Chastise wrap her arms around him. He hugged her back, and realised that she was crying. She was crying for him, he thought, and then corrected himself. No, she was crying for his brother. The boy that she had never known, and that he had known for far too short a time. The boy who had, like himself, tried to avoid the creaking steps on his way downstairs to lay his eyes on the presents that Santa Claus had left for him. Michael had barely felt his broken bones that night, despite the way they grated against each other sickeningly with each movement he made. All he had seen that night; all that he had known, was his brother lying so very still, with his leg a mangled heap on the third step down from the bottom of the staircase, and his head cracked open and bleeding on the fifth.

He remembered crying, screaming, howling, until his parents had come running to see what the matter was. They had cried too when they saw, until he thought the wailing of the three of them combined must have been loud enough to match the wailing siren of the ambulance that wouldn’t come soon enough.

His brother, Matthew, had only been seven years old that night. Michael had been ten, and because of this, he had never stopped blaming himself for what had happened. He was the eldest; he should have been more responsible. He should never have encouraged such a stupid idea, he should stopped his brother from falling, from splitting his head open, he should have screamed and cried louder until the ambulance had no choice but to drive faster than it had ever driven before. It was all his fault. There were so many scenarios that played, over and over in his head for months afterwards the accident, where things could have turned out differently, and they all centred on him. His faults. His stupidity. His mistakes. Although the scenes in his head were numerous and varied, they all ended in the same way. His little brother, his only brother, Matthew, would not have died on Christmas Morning. He would still be laughing and smiling and perhaps standing with him in this room, breathing the same stale air that he breathed, laughing over the times they had spent together in a childhood that never was.

Michael was crying. He couldn’t feel it yet, but he knew that without a doubt, he was crying. He clung to Chastise more tightly than ever, and knew that she was crying too. Tears streamed down both of their faces, but he felt somehow detached from them, from everything. And he knew that soon, he would have to stop. It was Chastise that regained control first, and he felt her tug lightly on his hand. He opened his eyes, and realised that he had stopped crying some time ago, if he had ever been crying in the first place. He wasn’t certain anymore.

Without meaning to speak, he found himself choking out the words, “It’s just like…like I wish he’d wake up.”

For a moment the room was quiet, and then Chastise spoke.

“Michael?” She said, in a voice barely above a whisper.

He wasn’t listening anymore. He was gazing around at the room, feeling like his heart was being wrenched out of his chest as he took it all in.

From the day his brother had died, until the day his parents had passed away, not so long ago, his brother’s room had remained untouched. Every corner had contained a bittersweet reminder of the boy that had once lived here. Drawings in crayon had remained scrawled across the blue aeroplane-patterned wallpaper that his brother had loved so much, shelves full of old and useless toys, brightly-coloured picture books lay stacked haphazardly on the floor, and artwork from school that had been tacked so with so much love and pride to the wall; it had all remained the same while the rest of the house had transformed around it. It did not occur to him that, despite the fact that the house had never been sold, the room might have been stripped completely bare the way it had. Now, the walls were blank. The wallpaper had been stripped off, revealing nothing but a dull white. Not a single piece of furniture remained, from the bed to the tiny chest of toys that had been tucked away in the corner. The room had been stripped of its life, its soul, and everything that had ever reminded him that once, a young, sweet boy of seven years had lived, laughed, and died here.

Michael drew in a breath, and as soon as he did, he realised that Chastise was no longer with him. He cried out, suddenly feeling vulnerable, as though the water had returned and was finally going to drown him for good, but then his eyes fell on her sitting cross-legged in the corner of the room, and he relaxed.

She noticed his eyes on her, and looked up, smiling.

“I found something.” She said.

Her voice was lighter than it had been before, and there was a strange tone to it. He walked over to her, curiously, and saw that there was a white piece of paper spread out in front of her.

“It was on the wall.” She explained. “It’d been painted over, though, they must’ve missed it.”

Michael sat beside her, and took her hand in his, his eyes trailing over the paper. His fingers brushed over her knuckles, sliding over her skin, and passing over the warm band of gold that she wore around her finger. Their engagement ring. He pressed his palm against palm, and twined his fingers around hers.
The paper was yellowed slightly, and the edges were a little worn, but the picture was still clear. It must have been drawn on his last day of school, before Christmas. It showed a round, happy family, standing side by side, with large, beaming smiles stretched across bright pink faces. They were standing in front of a Christmas tree, which was surrounded by brightly coloured presents. Each person in the picture was labelled with a name.

‘Grandpa, Grandma, Mum, Dad, Me, Michael’.

Somehow, Michael managed to smile. He turned his gaze to the message written in bold letters below the picture, but Chastise read it aloud before he had a chance.

“On Christmas morning.” She read, her voice shaking slightly. “I’m going to sleep in.”

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