1938, a small seminary in south Germany seeks to save people.
The sounds of the tiny metal carousel played out hauntingly in the stifling stillness of the attic. Each little tin horse rose and fell in a creaking motion, grinding up its pole and then quickly falling back into place. A small boy, no older than five, sat some feet away, his legs pulled to his chest and his eyes wide with wonderment. His mouth formed into a perfect circle as he watched the miniature horses gallop their way around the track to the tinkling music issuing slowly from the center of the machine. His tiny hands held onto his feet as he tried to curl them under the night shirt that he wore. The gentle light falling from the lantern that he placed near to him cast frightening shadows upon the wall of the attic. Despite the creatures that grew from the dancing light, he was not afraid.
He giggled as the tin carousel finally ground to a halt, the Neue Liebeslieder Waltz that had been playing stopped leaving him in complete silence, the eternal ringing in his ears came back within seconds. The boy clapped his hands together, his fingers entwining with each other as he squealed with delight. Looking up, he let his eyes wander to the faded figure of a great figure that confined itself to the shadows, safe out of the reach of the light. The transparent mist that was its body shifted and swirled like ever changing water in front of the child’s eyes. He offered the creature a bright smile before he inhaled a breath sharply and tottered to his feet. His balance had yet to return fully ever since his surgery, the bandage still adhered around his head, keeping the gauze pressed against his left ear. Despite that, he had somehow managed to climb up to the attic to visit his friend and tell him that he was well.
He moved to grab the blanket he had been using as a makeshift nest and rewrap it around his body. The folds fell around him and threatened to engulf his tiny frame in excess fabric. “I’s c-….c-old, R-riddle…” He rapped his hands together and stomped his bare-feet upon the wood of the ceilings as though to emphasize his point. He then raised his grey eyes, “D-d-d-dan…k-ke” he chirped to the creature. Suddenly the little boy let out a giggle and ran towards the shadowy being.
Georg knew well that the shadow he had called Riddle could not hug him back, but that did not concern him. As he toddled forward, his arms outstretched, he walked right up to the faint mist of the creature and quickly closed his embrace. He caught nothing substantial between his arms except for the folds of his own night shirt. He did not need to catch anything for the sudden chilling feeling that crept up his frame and penetrated deep into his body, right to his beating heart, was how he knew. The sensation did not lift, nor did it frighten the boy, it was his friend’s way of returning the gesture. He was sure of it and that made the smile spread even wider across his pudgy cheeks. He looked up towards Riddle’s face, eyes alit with sheer joy.
After a few moments, the cold lifted and the great lion moved back from the toddler to perch once more some feet away. Georg only looked to him, the searching glance his friend gave him made him tilt his head in confusion, the few wayward strands of his cork-screw tight curly hair flopping into his face.
“Sssleeep.” Riddle said, the faded whisper echoed about the room and seemed to be everywhere and no where at once. “Late…”
Georg pouted, rocking back on his heel which almost sent him tumbling to the ground once more. “B-b-but I w-want t-…t-to stay w-w-with you!” he pined to the shadow, reaching his arms out to him as though the creature could return the sentiment. His voice stuttered something terrible and he inhaled in strange places when he spoke to the creature.
“Noooo.” It hissed once more. “Sleeeeep.” It let out a low, commanding growl as it slid back even more into the shadows. Riddle’s eyes closed, his transparent body curling in on itself as he retreated away from the boy and slid out of sight of the child.
The boy pouted, stomping his foot. Riddle sounded just like his parents, he knew he was not tired and now there was no Riddle to play with anymore. He had to take the blanket from around him. Even though it was still cold up in the attic and in the house, he had struggled up the stairs with it and it had almost sent him tumbling every step he took. With the frowned still plastered upon his face, he squatted down and picked up his lantern. The child dragged that and his blanket to the top of the steps before putting them aside and closing the attic door as carefully as he could. He then began his descent back down the stairs from the attic to the main level of his house. Georg threw the blanket down over the side of the steps to the floor below, watching the once disturbed bundle throw its arms wide like a great bird and flutter to the ground.
After he made sure it was safe, he threw one last glance over his shoulder to the darkness of the attic. “Bye…” he whispered to his friend and closed the door.
He slid down on his belly, his tiny fingers wrapping tightly around the lip of each step as he carefully lowed his stubby legs on to each step in turn. After each step he reached and pulled down the lantern with him, placing it on the next step. Little Georg tried his best to not loose his balance because it was a very long way to the bottom should he topple off his feet. That prospect of falling scared him enough to clamp his eyes shut. He relied mostly on touch and his feet landing on the solid step below him before he even thought about releasing his fingers form the step above him. As he panted from the exertion of climbing and concentrating so hard, he finally managed to open one eye behind his dragonfly-sized glasses and poked his curly-haired head over the side to see just how far down it was still. Even though he was only a few feet up in the air, it was like a great chasm opening up below the little five-year old. The breath caught in his throat for a moment before he let out a scared squeak, quickly closing his eyes up once more.
Finally, his little feet met the solid floor of the house. Tapping around with his toes just to make sure, Georg put the lamp on the ground beside him and finally opened his eyes. He sighed with relief when he registered that he was on flat land and then scampered to collect his blanket. His breath coming out in short gasps as he ran and each foot fall jarred his minute lungs. He gathered up the folds of warm fabric in his arms and scurried back to take up his lantern as he carefully tiptoed back towards his bedroom. His eyes now, unlike they were when he was scaling down the steps, were wide and large, taking in every shape around him. He watched every shadow cast by the lantern with fascination as the light reflected gold orbs on his pupils.
He thought he would make it safely to his room in the darkness, but as soon as he crossed in front of the kitchens doorway, a deep and commanding voice called to him. “Georg.”
The little boy jumped as he looked to the minute kitchen of his house. Leaning up against the counter, smoking a cigarette, was the lithe but towering figure of his father. Although he was illuminated by a pair of candles, the man’s countenance still remained dark. Still dressed in his days work clothes, he smelled heavily of the smoke and alcoholic atmosphere of the bar he ran. The man’s square face was haggard and looked almost as though it was dirty. He and his son shared the same mess of curly black hair, however, unlike his son, his was fairly tame this evening though a few stray strands fell into his face. His hazel colored eyes were fixated upon the little boy who had snuck out of his bedroom to go hide away in the house attic in the most ungodly hours of the night. The stubble upon his chin spoke of the man’s general dislike of razors and all around self-presentation. One had reached up to pull the cigarette from his mouth as he motioned for his son to come into the kitchen.
“What are you doing out so late?” His voice was no louder than a whisper, but never the less caused little Georg to start quaking where he stood. “Come here.” He commanded with such a silent force that his mere words nearly pushed the boy off balance.
Timidly, step by step, the child tiptoed into the kitchen as he had been instructed to do. He left his lantern behind him, and only brought his blanket along. The empty feeling that gnawed at his pudgy stomach when he looked up at the towering figure of his father made it feel like he had been dunked in a bucket of cold water. Georg was afraid of his father, there were no doubt about that, but he still loved the man dearly even though from his childhood gatherings his father was not like the others in town. He would not play ball with him or teach him how to do chores, it was his cousin that taught him how to tie his shoes and it was his mother who had taught him how to buckle his belt and wear his lederhosen. His father barely spoke to him save to enforce rules and to scold him when he did wrong; his cousin once more was the one that was teaching him to read. However, despite all of his set backs, Fester Falkenwrath was still the man that Georg wanted to grow up to be.
“Well?” his father said.
Georg rocked on his heels as he held the blanket to his chest, trying to answer him as best he could. He knew that there were no set rules about going into the attic, but he did not want to tempt fate. “I-i-i… I … I was…w-was… up in the….a-at-ttic…up in the attic … b-be…b-bec-cause I… was…vi- ….-siting a-a….fr-friend again…a-again.” He gave an innocent smile, but the potential guilt of being caught started to reflect in his eyes.
“There is no one in the attic.” His father said to him.
“B-but pappa! Y-….es… there i-is!” the boy pined to his father.
The man stood up to his full height, looking down at the child, “No, there is not, for if there was I would have heard him come in.” He stated frankly, towering over his son, causing the little boy to hide just a little bit more in the folds of the blanket.
“Now tell me truthfully, why were you up in the attic at this time of night.”
“I-i…. I-I t-t-t-told… y-….ou…p-p…p-pappa. I was v-….isiting a…f-friend.”
“Fine,” Fester Falkenwrath snapped as looked to the child, putting out the cigarette in his ashtray, “Tell me about this… ‘friend’ of yours, boy.”
“I-I like… this friend, P-…p-pappa, h-hes n-….icer th-than th-the o-ones a-at the chur-….r-rch yard…” Little Georg’s eyes were wide with childish happiness that his father was actually listening to him and might approve of something that he had done.
Instantly a strange look came over his father’s face at his son’s words. His brows furrowing as he suddenly plummeted deep into thought. “We have to talk,” he said as he came over and picked up his son’s little body and placed it down none too gently in one of the chairs. He then backed up and folded his hands behind his back, and started to pace in front of his son. “You have to stop imagining these people, boy.”
“I-I don’t! Th-….ey t-talk t-to me… a-a-and… a-…nd… I c-…an see them a-and… t-talk to…talk t-…o them t-too.” Georg was breathless as he tried to explain.
“Georg, I will say this once and only once… these people are not real.” His voice held a hard edge to hi, but he spoke in simple terms so that his son could best understand the gravity of the situation. “You need to stop thinking up all these people They are a part of your imagination.”
The little boy tried to protest but he seemed strapped to his seat under the harsh gaze of his father’s eyes. “B-but th-…ey… aren’t!”
Completely ignoring his son’s feeble remarks, Fester continued with his berating of the little child. His voice never raising much higher then a concerned whisper, but the jagged tone cut daggers through the little child’s confidence. “Your teacher says you barely talk to the other students at school, you tell me you can see these strange figures and that they can talk to you. This is not a good thing Georg.”
“R-riddles n-….ot imaginary…”
“So it has a name now?” His father snapped at him, the boy whimpered and tried to melt into the chair to hide. “They are imaginary. You need to stop all this madness this instant.” Fester’s voice had simmered down into a low rumbling growl. “You keep talking to these ‘people’ like that and others will start to think you are Insane. Do you know what they do to people who are insane?”
Georg was shaking at his fathers scolding, the faint hint of tears coming up in his eyes in fear of potentially being hit as had often happened before. He shook his head. What did it mean to be insane? He had heard that word before, but it still was such a foreign concept to him. It did not sound good at all, to him it sounded like something someone got that made them very sick.
“They take people who are insane and lock them up in a box forever and ever. They never let them out. They can never see their mother and father again or their friends again. You know what else they do to those insane people? They hit them. They hit them hard and hurt them because they are bad people.”
Instantly dread slammed into the little boy’s body like a sledgehammer. His entire being began to shake, his eyes swimming as the tears fell forth from his eyes. Small squeaking sounds of pure anguish slipped from his throat as he hid his face in his blanket and muttered out his words: “B-but... R-…r-r-riddles…” he could barely talk, his words minced by hiccups, “a-a…are… m-my fr-….iend.”
His father’s brow furrowed and his features clouded over in a dangerous manner, the world seemed to grow darker around him. “Now you listen to me, boy, you are never allowed in that attic again, is that clear? If I so much as see you up those stairs I will get the belt and I will not hesitate to use it on you, is that understood Georg Anton?”
The little boy looked as though he had just been slapped in the face again at the mention of the belt. His little knees knocked together in fear as he sat on the big chair facing his father as he was lectured to. What was worse was that his father used his first and his middle name; that meant it was exceedingly serious. His child mind tried to comprehend why it was such a crime to have a friend like Riddle. Riddle was one of his closest friends if his only friend for he was always there and he was nice to Georg. He did not understand, what was so bad with his friend that his father would threaten him with a belt?
“B-but … p-… p-pap-pa…” he opened his mouth to ask more questions.
“NEIN!” His father thundered so loud that the ringing in the little boy’s ears flared up like cold fire inside his head and instantly he threw his hands up over his ears. They still hurt from the surgery those weeks ago and being this close to someone who had just yelled made it feel like the incisions in his head had just reopened again. The blood rushing in his ear drums sounded like the roar and clatter of a great freight engine. Instantly a new wave of tears poured from his eyes.
“No…” his father calmed himself, exhaling slowly, “No more talking about this, my word is final.” His glower did not lighten despite his voice loosing its edge. His hazel eyes looking at his son with disappointment and a hint of fear as he spoke, “Get to your room, you are out past your bed time.”
The boy could do no more, he timidly slid off the chair, averting his bright eyes from his father and fixating them on the ground. He pulled the blanket off the chair with him and dragged it along behind him with one hand while he kept the other over the bandage on his ear. It was no use, he toddled his way out of the kitchen. When he was in the hall he heard his father shout one more thing to him.
“Georg… stop crying.” The harshness had returned to his voice.
The little boy bit his lip and tried to swallow back the tears, “Y-y…y-yes p-pap-p…p-pa” Once more he clamped his eyes shut and hurried off to his room to hide in the safety of his bed covers.