The car’s engine died down at last. Almost instantly, Jack and his cousins, Lenni and Harley rushed outside, into the front yard of Jack’s new house in Fruitjuice town.
Lenni bent down to examine the number on the mailbox. “Number 12,” she announced. “I thought it was going to be 10.”
“That means I win!” Harley yelled triumphantly. “I guessed 11.”
She began a victory dance, but Lenni slapped her on the arm softly.
“Ow!” Harley complained. “Auntie Molly, Lenni hit me.”
“Girls, stop it,” Molly Jovanky was busy unloading the luggage. “Jack, a little help here, please.”
“Sure, mum,” Jack replied, and hauled his suitcase out of the car.
“Now, there a certain places in Fruitjuice that I want you to avoid,” Molly explained as Jack and his cousins prepared an exploring trip around town.
“The most important place you’re GOING to avoid is the abandoned mansion on Carrotface Rd. Got that?” Molly rambled on. “Next, don’t buy things from any shops unless you’ve got permission from me, don’t accept lollies from strangers, don’t TALK to strangers…”
“OK, mum, we’ve get it!” Jack groaned. “Can we please just go now!”
Molly stopped, her mouth still hanging open in mid-sentence, then smiled.
“Of course,” she answered sweetly.
“Honestly, your mum’s a nightmare when she’s in a conversation,” Lenni complained. “How do you put up with it?”
“I know,” Jack agreed. “Anyway, I don’t put up with it. I just have to listen.”
The cousins turned a corner, and an enormous mansion instantly loomed before them.
“Let’s check it out!” Harley suggested.
“We’re not supposed to,” Jack protested. “REMEMBER?”
“Too bad, Jack, but I agree with Harley,” Lenni argued. “We’re just going to have a look.”
“I’m just saying, that mansion must have been abandoned for a reason,” Jack muttered, but still followed his cousins into it. Inside, everything looked gloomy and cold. Rich, elegant furniture had been torn and broken. Smashed glass lay at Jack’s feet.
“I can’t believe why someone would abandon this place,” Lenni gasped. “It’s- awesome!”
“I agree,” Harley announced.
“What? How is a ruined, abandoned mansion awesome?” Jack asked, surprised.
“But it’s not ruined!” Lenni and Harley both protested at the same time.
They’re not seeing what I’m seeing, Jack thought. Either that or they’re pretending.
They ascended the stairs, to the next level. There, everything was still ruined, but Harley and Lenni didn’t seem to know. Then they trudged to the top floor. As soon as Jack set foot past the top step, there was a gush of wind and the entire floor turned as cold as ice. It only lasted for a moment, but even Harley and Lenni felt it.
“We should go right now,” Jack warned. He turned around, ready to step onto the staircase, but they were gone, only to be replaced by a solid, plaster wall.
“What’re you waiting for?” Henni asked, clearly frightened and annoyed at the same time. She pushed past Jack, and crashed straight into the wall.
“That doesn’t make sense!” Harley whimpered, feeling the wall she obviously couldn’t see.
“There’s a solid, plaster wall in the way,” Jack explained. “Why can’t you two see it?”
“All I can see is a flight of stairs,” Lenni replied. “That’s weird.”
Just then, a deafening banging shook the entire floor, echoing through the mansion.
BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG.
“What do we do?” Harley asked, her eyes wide with fear.
“We…Run!” Jack yelled, and sprinted down the corridor.
Jack stopped in front of a bedroom door, panting and gasping for breath. Harley and Lenni appeared a second later, both of them also panting.
“An exit!” Lenni called, pointing at the bedroom door. “We can leave!”
“But that’s…oh, never mind,” Jack muttered as Harley yanked open the door, and sprinted straight into the side of the king-sized bed. She groaned as she tripped over, and landed on the bed with a soft thud.
“Cool!” Lenni gasped. “Harley’s floating in midair!”
Jack slapped the palm of his hand on his forehead. “That is a BEDROOM!” he exaggerated.
“Huh? There can’t be a bedroom on a front yard, you know,” Lenni pointed out.
“Okay, I obviously have a really weird power that lets me see things,” Jack explained. “Real things.”
Harley found her way off the bed, and followed Jack and Lenni into the hallway. Jack glanced at the wall opposite the bedroom, and pointed at it, shouting, “I found them! I found the stairs!”
“Jack, how can there be a flight of stairs where a wall is?” Lenni asked.
“Lenni, how can there be a front yard on the top floor of a mansion?” Jack argued.
Will you both SHUT UP!” Harley screamed. “Lenni, so what if there’s a staircase inside a wall? Jack, so what if Lenni and I can see a front yard on the top floor? We need to trust each other, especially Jack. He’s the right one.”
“Alright,” Lenni sighed, stretching out a hand to feel the wall. It passed right through.
“Take it easy,” Jack instructed as Lenni passed through the wall and set her foot on the top step.
“I can’t see a thing!” Lenni cried out in alarm. “It’s all black!”
“Feel around with your foot until you can find a stair,” Jack suggested as Harley gingerly stepped on to the top stair.
Jack, Harley and Lenni were on the second floor. The 40 minutes they’d been inside the strange mansion felt like a lifetime. Suddenly, the banging began again, echoing through the walls, floors, and corridors.
BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG.
Harley gulped. “I- I’m scared, Lenni.”
“Don’t be, Harley,” Lenni reassured her, though her own heart was pounding.
BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG.
“Not good,” Jack muttered. “Not good at all.”
“I have been trapped here for so long, waiting for someone to enter the house and release me,” a voice suddenly rasped. Like the banging, it echoed through the entire mansion.
“What do you want?” Jack asked.
I need to be free,” the voice replied. “I must be freed! Come, find me in the basement of this mansion and free me! Free me and you will all be able to leave.”
“What now?” Lenni questioned.
“We’ll have to do as it says,” Jack replied. “We can get out that way.”
“You have one hour…” the voice faded.
“Uh, RUN!!!” Jack yelled.
They dodged through corridors, sprinted past paintings, and bolted into rooms, but there was no sign of the stairs. No way down to the ground floor. No way to get to the basement, and no way out.
“We need to get down somehow!” Lenni complained.
“The house is always shifting,” the voice responded. “I have no control over it. Jack is the only one able to see through its illusions.”
“Why?” Harley asked.
“He… isn’t completely human…” the voice replied.
“We kind of know that bit,” Lenni explained.
“You know?” Jack asked. “I didn’t tell you.”
“Your mum did,” Lenni answered. “Sorry about that.”
“Never mind,” Jack growled. “My dad went back to his planet when I was 5.”
We’ve only got 40 minutes left!” Harley reminded. “Basically, RUN!!!”
“I-found- the- stairs,” Jack panted, leading his cousins to an empty bedroom. “What do you see?”
“A bedroom,” Lenni replied.
“Alright, be careful,” Jack advised, leading the way down the (invisible) staircase. He reached the bottom with ease, and waited patiently for Harley and Lenni. They eventually reached the bottom too, and Jack instinctively yanked open a door, which turned out to be the basement. Lenni led the way down, being careful not to trip.
“That’s interesting,” Jack commented. “You seem to know where you’re going, Lenni.”
“I can see stairs to the basement,” Lenni answered. “Maybe the basement is the only part of the house that always stays the same.”
“Probably,” Harley agreed. The stairs seemed to go on forever. By the time the cousins reached the bottom, over half an hour had passed.
“Quickly, Jack,” Lenni urged. Jack kicked down the basement door, and sprinted inside. Facing him, in a cell, was a human-looking alien.
“You’re…from the same planet as my dad,” Jack realised, staring at the alien. The only thing different about it was that it had horns, instead of ears. Its ears were tiny holes positioned just below the horns.
“Let me out, quickly!” the alien instructed. Beside the cell, ticking, was a time bomb.
“Jack, 1 minute left!” Lenni screeched, glancing at the timer on it. Jack snatched up the only key lying around, and shoved it into the lock. The key turned easily.
“As soon as the cell opens, the time bomb will stop,” the alien (whose name was Randy, Jack found out) explained. Jack grabbed the cell door, and yanked it with all his strength, but the door hardly moved. He tried again, with Randy pushing from the other side. The door gave way very slightly.
“Uh, 10 seconds, guys!” Harley screamed. “9, 8, 7…”
“Keep pushing!” Jack barked, and Randy pushed harder.
“3, 2, 1….0!!!” Harley yelled, as Jack and Randy made a final attempt at the door, which was almost open…