The old man—hands shaking—touched the book and said, "I'm looking for a story about a man looking for stories…" he closed his eyes, and turned to a page.
Horry Patter is an unremarkable child. One would think that living under the stairs in a cupboard would find its way into everyday conversation, but Horry does not have any friends, so it doesn't. Even the mystery, intrigue, and downright improbability of a cactus-shaped scar running across his forehead would usually draw the occasional lingering eye—the offhand comment—but it doesn't. Not for Horry. Because he lives in a cupboard under the stairs. And he does not have any friends.
Horry's unremarkability does not, it seems, arise from any particular lack of CuriousQuality. For sure, Horry is chock full of that. More accurately, Horry simply never has the opportunity to be remarked upon. Because he lives in a cupboard under the stairs. And, well, he does not have any friends.
He places his palm on his door, and gives it a gentle nudge. A sliver of light illuminates his meager living space—books and rumpled sheets—a long since burned out bulb hangs, still. The walls are bare, save for old maps torn from fantasy novels, pinned in place with used staples. Usually, Horry wouldn't be so daring to take a peek in the daylight hours, but Uncle Durbly is, to put it mildly, making a ruckus.
"NO SOLICITORS." he screams, slamming the door for the fourth time that afternoon. A crucifix rattles askew by the door.
Horry can't see, but he hears muffled protestations from the other side of the door. The front door windows look to be in shadow, despite the apparent midafternoon sunlight pouring over the spotless kitchen across the hall.
Uncle Durbly turns, scowling, and lumbers past the stairwell. His hand slams the cupboard closed.
Horry counts to ten in his head, and then pushes the door open again. The shade in front of the door diminishes suddenly, and light returns. Curious.
Horry jumps, as his uncle slams the cupboard shut once again.
"What do we say about repetition, boy?" the lock rattles into place. Horry frowns. No dinner tonight, then. He climbs back onto his sleeping mat, and grabs one of the books he's read a hundred times.
The afternoon passes without too much fuss. Occasionally, Horry hears the sing-song voice of his aunt from the kitchen, usually opposite a baritone grumble from his uncle. Eventually, the earthy scent of potato soup wafts to the stairs, and Horry's mouth begins to water. But he waits, silent, except for the occasional crinkle of a turned page.
Chairs screech across tile, and plates clatter. Horry jumps at the sound—stirred awake from a nap? Supper must be done. He picks the book up from where he'd dropped it. A fresh crease runs along the first hundred or so pages. He sighs.
A sideboard near his pillow creaks aside, and a plump hand holds out a bread-roll.
"I'm sorry Horry,"
"It's okay, Dobley," Horry takes the roll. The hand disappears.
"He—he knows it's your birthday. I'm sorry."
Horry nods, as his cousin puts the board back in place.
If Horry thinks about it—really thinks about it—drawing his mind's eye to that uncomfortable knot of pain halfway piercing his stomach and heart, he knows this wasn't how children are supposed to live. He knows that something is broken. That his uncle is broken. That his aunt is broken. That even his cousin is broken. And most of all, he knows that he himself is broken. But it's the sort of crack that slips out of your mind, if you don't keep it in focus. It settles into a sort of normalcy.
And so Horry doesn't dwell on it. He reads his books, he keeps to himself, and he even takes the occasional pity-scrap of food from Dobley—compressing that painful knot into a space so small that he can barely feel that it's there. It allows him to have days like today—where he doesn't really feel much of anything at all.
The front door rattles furiously on its hinges.
His uncle screams—continuously—as he stomps to the front. The cupboard rattles as he passes, and Horry can barely make out a "—NOSOLICITORSNOSOLICITORSNOSOLICITORS—" in his uncle's furious wail.
Then, there's a wet crack, and Horry's room explodes.
Horry's ears ring, head aches, and body buzzes. And he's covered in wood splinters. He looks around, in a daze. His aunt is…screaming?
The cupboard door is mostly pulverized. White and red chips puncture the surface, kind of like a dartboard. Actually, most of the living room is covered in the red and brown and white shards. Horry, dizzy, peeks out of his hole and surveys the space.
A positively gigantic man stands at the epicenter of a cone of devastation, next to a red smear and what used to be the entry-way to the house. He holds himself delicately, as if trying to avoid breaking anything, and actually manages to look apologetic, despite his massive beard and grizzled features.
"'Woz jus' tryin' ta open tha door…" the giant trails off as he spots Horry. Aunt Pelilah screams, continuously.
"Bugger me, tha tabloids're true." The giant steps—carefully—over the red smear, flicks his hand at Aunt Pelilah, and she crumples to the ground, silent.
"Sorry 'Orry, been tryin' ta reach ye. Yar uncle thar is…eh…woz quite tha…ehh. Hmm," the giant trails off, concern crossing his brow.
Horry feels a twinge in his neck, and touches it. It's slippery—wet—like something is protruding? With motion not fully matching his alarm, he paws at his chest, which is also wet. He touches the protrusion again, with his other hand, and passes out.