Charlie (Part One)
by Dannielle Viera
Ben stared at the ceiling. Moonlight seeped through the dusty window and spread like melted ice-cream across the flaky surface. Then he heard the noise again. Thump … thump … thump. Ben’s heart pounded as bits of paint drifted down and settled around him.
‘It’s probably just a possum,’ he murmured, turning onto his side. The sofa squeaked in protest at the sudden movement. Ben held his breath, hoping that he hadn’t woken his parents. Soft snores from the bedroom eased his mind.
Why did his parents like staying in old pubs? There was never a proper bed for him, and the sounds of the shabby building shifting and sighing in the night always kept him awake. Ben punched his pillow and then threw his head down with a thud.
The hiss of water snaking through distant pipes reached his ears. Ben thought of the waterfall they had seen the day before, and the fountain in the last town they had driven through. Soon, he needed to pee.
There was no toilet in the room, and the idea of wandering down the dark hallway to the shared bathroom made Ben tremble. He tried to take his mind off his full bladder by counting to a hundred. As ‘thirteen’ escaped from his lips, he caught sight of moonlight dripping down the sides of the torch that the pub owners had given them ‘just in case the electricity goes on the fritz’. Perfect!
Shutting the door quietly, Ben swept the hallway with the torch beam. He padded down to the bathroom and found it empty. Sweet relief coursed through him as splashes echoed around the toilet stall. Quickly washing his hands, Ben stepped out of the bathroom door and gently pulled it shut.
‘Have you seen my mouse?’
Ben spun around and dropped the torch with a clatter onto the wooden floor. Picking it up hastily, he swung it in the direction of the voice. Large blue eyes blinked in the light. Thin fingers twisted together and then rubbed tears from pale cheeks.
The shock had knocked the wind from Ben’s lungs. Gasping, he replied, ‘No … I haven’t … seen anything …’
The boy started blubbering. ‘He is lost forever!’
‘Shhh!’ Ben said sharply. ‘You’ll wake everyone. Don’t worry, I’ll use my torch to help you look for your mouse.’
They walked slowly down the hallway, the yellow light of the torch dancing across the floor. Ben glanced at the boy. ‘I’m Ben, by the way. What’s your name?’
‘Charlie,’ whispered the boy, his eyes focused on the bounce of the beam.
‘Are you on holidays?’
‘No, I live here.’
Ben was about to ask another question, when they came to the top of the stairs that led to the front door of the pub. ‘Maybe your mouse is down there? Do you want to check it out?’
Charlie shook his head and backed away from the stairs.
Ben shrugged. ‘That’s okay, we’ll just keep looking up here.’