A Single Leaf - The Land of Monsters - The Secret Room
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Part 1 - The Secret Room
The moon had not yet given up the sky to the sun when Timothy slipped out of his grandmother's cottage with Bear, his pet raccoon. His grandmother lay sound asleep within, but not for long. There were salves to prepare, ill neighbors to visit, vegetables to gather. He had to be quick. He snuck through the sleepy village to Lucy's house, which sat near the cliff overlooking the sea.
She had told him she'd discovered something, but refused to say more. Typical girl. She'd known he'd stay up all night wondering about it. She lived with her aunt and uncle, who had taken her in after her mother died. Her father visited sometimes, but often his work kept him away for months. They were similar in that way: Timothy's parents had left him to his grandmother to raise. He didn't know if they were still alive, but he didn't think of them too often. He stayed much too busy for that.
He'd found Bear in the forest a couple years before, just a kit only a few weeks old. It hadn't looked like she'd eaten in a while, so he assumed either her mother had abandoned her or fell prey to some other animal or human. He'd looked around, just to be sure, and finally decided to take her home.
Luckily his grandmother didn't mind when he brought home strays, and usually they were gone within a few days. But Bear stayed, becoming part of the family until Timothy could barely remember life without her.
Now she wandered ahead of him, sniffing at doors and shrubs, running to catch up when he passed her. Lucy's house sat at the very end of the lane, a little apart from all the other houses. A wrought iron fence surrounded the property, two snarling gargoyles standing guard at the gate, which was covered in dark roses and vines.
Timothy circled around the fence to the right, where large shrubs grew to hinder the view. Lucy had shown him a secret entrance through the shrubs, and he squeezed through the narrow opening, Bear behind him, and crept along the perimeter until he reached the side of the great house.
The lawn was filled with numerous creatures and structures, all made out of plants: lions, knights, whales, dragons, castles. Her aunt and uncle loved the fantastical. The house itself stood three stories tall, all jutting towers and pointed roofs. Once it had been pure white, but some relative had painted it a dark gray, which appeared black on many days because of the mass of clouds that refused to leave.
Bear waddled straight to the door, already scratching and sniffing for food. Timothy joined her and knocked lightly on the wooden door: three quick knocks and two slow ones, their secret signal. There was a shuffling inside; Lucy must've been waiting close by. A second later the door creaked open and the blonde little girl poked her head outside.
She waved him in soundlessly. Timothy picked Bear up and followed her in, the door closing swiftly behind them. She pressed one finger to her lips and grabbed his hand, leading him through the kitchen, down a short hall, and up the stairs to the third floor. Her aunt and uncle slept on the first floor, and once she was certain of their safety she released his hand and smiled.
"You'll never believe it, Timothy!" she whispered. "I've found the most curious thing!"
"Out with it already. I was up half the night wondering about it."
She smiled mischievously. "Come, I'll show you."
She grabbed his hand again and led him down a branching hallway, past several closed doors until they stood at the very end, facing a wall. A small wooden stand stood against it, a vase holding a single rose positioned on it. To the right and left were two more closed doors, but Lucy started intently at the wall. Bear shifted in his arms, insisting on being put down. Timothy obliged.
He stared at the wall as well, unsure what he was looking for. The rose and the table seemed perfectly normal, and the wallpaper, though yellowing and peeling in the corners, was a perfectly respectable floral pattern seen in many well-to-do homes. He opened his mouth to question Lucy, then he saw it.
Extending up the wall on either side was the faintest bulge, almost imperceptible. Higher up the two bulges connected, forming a perfect rectangle. He reached out to touch the wall, finding that it pressed in easily beneath his fingers. Further probing revealed what he expected: a doorknob.
"A secret room?" he asked.
Lucy nodded, her smile widening. "I found it the day before yesterday. I haven't tried to look inside yet. I wanted to wait for you."
He peered back down the hall, toward the stairs which led back to the first floor and her sleeping aunt and uncle. "Should we--"
"Of course I'm not going to ask them," she said, reading his mind. "They may not even know about it. Besides, I wanted this to be our secret."
He did love secrets.
"How do we open it without ripping the paper?"
"My aunt and uncle rarely come to this floor. I say we rip it and paste it back together. They won't notice."
He started to object, but thought better. It was her house, her relatives. If she was okay with getting caught, he wouldn't argue.
"Let's do it."
Together they moved the stand and the vase and peeled the paper back, careful not to make too much noise. Bear sniffed at the wall and scratched the paper. They didn't have to reveal too much since the door opened toward the room. They just needed enough of an opening to slip inside.
When they had uncovered the doorknob they paused, both staring at the brass knob in anticipation. A faint light shone through the keyhole.
Timothy turned to Lucy. "You do the honors. It's your house."
"We'll do it together," she said, smiling at him again.
He nodded and they both grabbed the knob, his hand over hers, and turned. The door stuck in the frame, moving only the slightest bit. Timothy bumped his shoulder against it as quietly as possible until finally it opened and they fell into the room.