Corey peeped round the door and waited for his eyes to adjust to the dark. He could make out the shape of his bike in the dim light. After his terrible fright, he was afraid to step out into the alley. He had considered leaving the bike there and walking home, but it would take hours. There was not a sound and no movement in the darkness, so he sprinted across the alley. His hands shook as he placed the key in the lock and the sound of the chain, as he pulled it through the wheel spokes, sounded like thunder in the silence. He did not want to waste time putting the chain in his saddlebag and wrapped it round his wrist. It would serve as a weapon if he needed it. Sweat coated his upper lip, and he licked at the salty wetness. It was a huge relief to be out on the main road and among the traffic and confusion of the town. No longer worried about the threat of street gangs; he had more worrying things to think about; he cycled as fast as he could. He usually looked forward to leaving the town behind and welcomed the dark roads and watching laneways of the countryside, but tonight was different. There were few cars, and no sounds beside the lowing of cattle or the bleating of grazing sheep. The moon lit the road, but it did little to dispel his terror. He expected the Thing from the alley to step out from behind every tree he passed, or to feel the breath of the monster dog on his heels. His calf muscles ached as he pumped the pedals faster and faster, and his heart beat against his chest. What were those things, he wondered? They were real and not part of his imagination. He would never dream up with something like that. As his house came in to view, he stifled a sob of relief. Annie left the porch light on, and its beams were a beacon welcoming him home. His legs shook when he dismounted and trembled like jelly. He threw the bike from him and allowed it to freewheel into the garden, where it landed on its side. His fingers were so slippery with sweat he thought he would never get the key in the lock, and it was a relief to shut and bolt the door. Standing with his back against the wood, he unwound the chain from his wrist. He frowned at the way it cut into this skin leaving blood-red indents in the flesh. In the sitting room, the red light on the computer signalled the boys forgot to turn it off. He slipped into the chair beside it and clicked the mouse. The screen showed the usual social site they all used, and he paused for a moment before typing,
Does anyone know what the word Culdoplin means?
He did not expect to get an answer so late at night, but the computer pinged, and someone named Juliet asked, why do you want to know? Before he could type his reply, she logged off, but he went ahead and wrote anyway.
Hi, my name is Corey Dawson and I am seventeen. I know this is going to sound weird, but I have been having these strange dreams for as long as I can remember. In the last few weeks, they have been coming every night. I dream about a place called, Culdoplin, but I have no idea if it is real or just something that I dreamed. Do you recognise the word and if you do, will you get back to me about it?
He read the message through and hit the send button. What is the worst that could happen, he thought? She might choose to ignore him, and who would blame her? Culdoplin was probably something from a fairy tale he had read as a child. Logging off, he waited until the company logo disappeared from the screen before getting up. He was still scared by his experience, and the house seemed too quiet as he tip-toed up the stairs. He opened the door in the boys’ room and peeped in. They managed to fit three single beds in here. Corey smiled at the humped forms of Rasher and Stew, but Jamie’s bed was empty. Kneeling, he allowed his eyes to adjust to the darkness and saw the mound beneath the bed. The dull beam of the flashlight meant its power was draining. The years of sleeping on the streets had made Jamie wary, and he had yet to adjust to living indoors, so he felt safer cocooned under the mattress. Closing the door, he crept to his own room and pulled off his clothes. He was weary from working long hours and the responsibility of taking care of the others. He wanted to sleep for a week, but he knew it was impossible. The first light of dawn was sneaking through the curtains as he closed his eyes.
It was after seven that evening when Corey set off for work. There were miles to go before he reached the town, and then a full shift working at the counter of the burger bar until early into the morning.
“I’m worried about him,” Annie said to Tom. “He doesn’t look too well. I think the strain of working so hard is beginning to tell on him.”
“I’ve noticed it too,” Tom rubbed the silvery bristles on his chin. “We can manage on my pension if we have to, but something has to be done.”
Things were about to change, and any decision they made for Corey would soon be taken off their hands.