The clock chimed midnight, startling Thea where she slept. She sat up swiftly, glancing around her room. The full moon shone through the half-closed drapes, the warm summer breeze making them flutter. She wasn’t sure exactly what urged her to, but she slid out of bed, lighting the candle on her bedside. The candlelight flickered, drawing dark shadows on the walls, but Thea wasn’t afraid. She hesitated, hand hovering over the doorknob before she yanked it open. She was greeted by a chilly breeze and she shivered, hugging the thin silvery fabric of the nightgown closer to her body.
The floorboards creaked as Thea made her way through the grand hallways, no one in the staid old house awake but her. She made her way down the spiral staircase, using the light of the candle to guide her, her hand trailing on the cold railing. Just as her bare feet touched the floor at the bottom, she heard a whisper of a song. She whipped around, but there was no one in sight. Frowning, she tiptoed further out from the staircase, seeing a faint light from down the hallway.
Trying to make as little noise as possible, Thea crept through the lower hallway toward the light. The house looked eerie at night, the dark shadows full of invisible monsters and mystery. She felt a chill run down her spine as she passed the grandfather clock with the pendulum sweeping form side to side. She could swear she saw a pair of twinkling eyes glowing from within.
“That’s weird,” she whispered to herself. As far as she knew, it was empty except for the spiders and cobwebs. But her curiosity led her to stretch out her hand, twisting the cold knob. To her surprise, it opened.
Thea squinted against the bright light coming from a lantern glowing in a shelf on the wall. As expected, there was nothing except for dust bunnies and cobwebs adorning the shelves. She moved to close the door when something caught her eye.
Hidden behind the lantern sat a miniature rocking horse. Thea assumed it was meant to be an ornament of some sort. She put the candle down on a shelf and picked the rocking horse up, examining it. Tiny stars adorned its wooden body, stirrups hung by its side, and red rails curved beneath it. It even had a small flowing mane and a rope tail. She put it on the shelf, grinning as it rocked back and forth.
The door slamming behind her startled Thea. She pressed her hands to the place where the knob just was, but it was gone. Letting out a cry, she pounded on the door. But no one could hear her. She turned around slowly, hearing a strange creak, just in time to see the shelf behind her swing open slowly, the rocking horse and lantern gone. The shelf wasn’t a shelf and in fact was a door blocking the set of stairs stretching out before her, leading down to the darkness. She heard the few notes of a melody coming from the darkness below and hesitated before her curiosity won. It seemed to be the only way out anyway.
The uneven steps groaned as she crept down the stairs, holding the candle out in front of her. She hesitated at the last step, staring at the empty drop below, toes curling over the lip before she stepped off the edge.
The ground should’ve been there, but Thea kept falling, air whistling through her ears as she flailed her arms wildly, trying to slow down, her heart thrumming in her ears. The candle slipped out of her hand, the flame extinguished. She let out a scream but the wind whipped the sound away as she plummeted like a stone. Finally, she saw a light open up below her, growing larger and larger before she could see a room in the distance. She squeezed her eyes shut, bracing for the landing, her body tensing as she crashed.
Thea opened her eyes to see she was caught in a large black web stretched over a large room. “Wha-?” She thrashed, trying to free herself, the material scratchy against her hands. Rolling over on her side, she slipped, crashing into a heap on the sawdust-covered floor.
The lights here were brighter, paler too. It seemed to be a workshop, sketches and books haphazardly scattered as if a windstorm had blown through mere moments before. Thea ran her fingers along the open page of a book, a miniature rocking horse sketched upon it. She smiled as she recognized the design, the tiny stars and stirrups.
A commotion in the corner of the room made her look up in surprise. A figure stumbled out from behind a table, hood pulled low over its face, a bottle clenched in one hand and a pen in the other. It staggered toward her, before stumbling into a bench, the hood falling off to reveal pale, watery eyes set into a sallow-skinned face, blond hair hanging off in clumps.
“What are you doing here?” He slurred. “Don’t you know the dangers?” He swung his hand wildly, knocking over a stack of books. “Whoops,” he stared at the pile before giving her a lopsided grin, lips peeling back to reveal stained yellow teeth.
“I was just leaving,” Thea stumbled over her words, trying not to stare.
“Hmm.” He looked down at the pen and the bottle in his hands as if trying to decide which one he could drink from. He finally decided on the pen, lifting the end to his mouth before letting out a noise of disgust as dark ink spurted across his face. Thea watched in astonishment and horror, unsure of whether to intervene. The man smeared the ink across his face frowning at the black smudge. He turned his attention back to her, scrutinizing her with squinted eyes. “They just keep coming, don’t they,” he grumbled.
The words sent a chill down Thea’s spine. “What?”
“I’d find my way back if I were you. Don’t want to end up like them.” He took a step closer to her, his foul breath washing over her face.
“Who?” Thea asked as she backed away.
“Them.” He lurched forward, eyes rolling back as his tongue lolled out. He paused for a second to stare at her before he lunged forward, hands elongated, fingernails twisted, gnarly hands scratching at her. Thea fell backward, scooting backward on the floor as fast as she could to get away from him, fear pulsing through her. Her back hit the wall as she pressed against it, trying to get as far away from him as she could.
He smiled, knowing she was caught. “Another day, another victim.”
Her hands scrambled along the wall before they found a strangely shaped object. Hoping it was a weapon, she held it out in front of her, before she realized it was the rocking horse. The man cocked his head to the side before smiling as the wall dropped out from behind her and she tumbled head over heels into the darkness. She caught one last glimpse of his face before darkness closed around her.
The cold air greeted her as Thea groaned, rolling over onto her side. Darkness stretched in every direction around her, ripples stretching out around her as she got up, wincing as her muscles screamed in protest. She glanced uneasily around, seeing a glowing light in the distance. “I guess I’ll see what it is,” she said aloud to no one in particular.
It seemed like she walked forever, the darkness stretching out solemnly around her. Indistinct whispers sound around her and she whipped her head around to see nothing but the pressing darkness. The light seemed to pulse as she neared it, shining brighter. Thea shielded her eyes as it grew larger and larger until it seemed to envelop her, the light making her eyes ache as she stepped into the room.
The light vanished as Thea squinted around her, seeing that she was standing in a dark room, the glassy surface of the floor reflecting her dark face back at her. Ripples spread out whenever she took a step, glancing around at her surroundings, indistinct whispers coming from the corners. She let out a huff of amusement. For standing on the dark floor in front of her was the rocking horse. “It seems like you’re following me,” she said with a smile. She crossed the room, reaching down to pick it up as a cold hand grasped her shoulder.
“Don’t.” Thea whirled around to see another girl standing there, her eyes rolled up so only the whites were visible. Her skin was deathly pale, a sheet of white marble as her cold, clammy hand gripped the fabric of Thea’s nightgown.
Thea struggled to free herself but the girl gripped her tighter. “It’s dangerous,” she whispered, her voice rough, before her body shuddered, a wide grin stretching across her face. “No, it’s fine!” She giggled. “Go ahead!”
The girl moaned, rolling her head back. In her other hand, Thea realized, with a jolt, was clutched a rocking horse, just like the one Thea was holding. “It’s going to win,” she rasped. She let go of Thea, who stumbled backward.
A different hand grabbed Thea’s hand, spinning her around. The young boy stared back at her, eyes rolled up just like the girl’s. “It’s too strong,” he smiled at her, lifting his hand so Thea could see the rocking horse clenched in his hand, blood staining the wood, broken fingernails caked in dried scarlet.
The next hand to grab Thea was from a girl, her body suspended above the ground, the tips of her sandals barely brushing the glassy surface. She moved toward Thea as if hung on strings, her legs dragging behind her, body hanging limply as it spasmed. “Run,” she croaked. Thea staggered backward as she saw the rocking horse clenched in the girl’s hand and the red letters blocked in blood across her dress, spelling out the words, It’s too late, Thea.
“Rocking horse. Rocking horse. Run while you can. But it’s too late for you now. ”
They jolted forward, surrounding her, dragged by an invisible force, moving closer and closer to Thea as she whirled around and around, drawing closer and closer. Hands grabbed her shoulders, wrapping around her arms and neck. Thea shrieked as she felt herself being hauled backward. She thrashed, but the hands clenched tightly around her, making it impossible for her to free herself.
“Let me go!” She screamed. One by one they shook their heads, faces devoid of life, movements robotic.
“We cannot. It commands us to take you as it took us.”
She stared at them wide-eyed, seeing light in the corner of her eye as they deposited her in the center of the room. Thea pushed herself up from the ground, staring straight into the painted eye of a giant rocking horse looming above her. She fell backward in surprise, feeling something crawl over her leg. Thea looked down and let out a scream as strings wrapped around her arms, her legs, tangling around her body as she desperately tried to free herself. They kept coming and coming, wrapping tighter and tighter as she thrashed, swatting at them wildly. It was then that she realized that she still had the rocking horse clutched in her hand.
The thud echoed through the room as the horse dropped onto the glassy floor, wood splintering as it shattered into a thousand glowing pieces. Thea gasped in relief, rubbing her arms and legs as the strings loosened around her.
“It’s too late,” the giant rocking horse grinned down at her. “You can’t escape from me.” Thea’s mouth opened in a silent scream as she felt herself being yanked upward.
Thea jolted up in her bed, soaked in sweat at the chime of the clock striking midnight. The full moon shone through the half-closed drapes, the warm summer breeze making them flutter. She wasn’t sure exactly what urged her to, but she lifted the covers, letting a scream as she saw the rocking horse clutched tightly in her hand.