Tom didn’t care his younger brother and sisters were looking for him in the garden. Mum and dad were too busy enjoying their afternoon tea while their kids played. They had considered it to be a safe place. The staff were not going to let anyone out and the tall stone walls protected the kids from the heavy traffic along the embankment and the surrounding Chelsea streets. This was their moment for peace while the children played hide and seek.
‘Where’s Tom?’ His brother and sisters asked but mum and dad didn’t hear them. Tom was good at hiding. He always had been and they knew when it was time to leave for supper, his bottomless stomach wouldn’t let anything get in the way of its next meal.
The door opened and a shaft of light entered the room. Tom stepped inside, looking over his shoulder. He had found a stone staircase at the back of the garden behind a thick cluster of bushes that he had always hidden in since the start of summer. He had never noticed the staircase before and expected that perhaps a gardener had removed a covering, maybe a stone slab, to open the staircase up. There was no other explanation for it. It didn’t make sense. Staircases don’t just appear in the ground and in the middle of Chelsea.
Tom walked down the stairs, feeling more grown up with every step he took. He wasn’t scared of the dark, he wanted to prove it to himself and as he pushed the door open and stepped into the room a thick blanket of dust hung in the air. It was almost difficult to breathe but Tom didn’t mind. It just added to the excitement of being an explorer. He followed the shaft of light that sliced through the room and walked over to some of the boxes to have a closer look. There were rusty nails poking out of them so he knew to be careful.
‘What’s inside?’ he muttered to himself as his fingers gripped the top of a lid. ‘Ouch.’ Tom pulled his hand back in fright and peered at his finger. A splinter stuck out from his skin. Tom gripped it between his teeth before trying the lid again. The rusty nails were loose in the box and carefully he pulled the lid off.
Inside the box sat some flowers. The petals were brown and there were faint blotches over them. Tom leant over to one side to let more light pass over his shoulder. It was an instinctive move because he wanted to see more of the flowers’ stems. They were red.
‘I didn’t know flowers were red?’ Tom’s whisper hissed in the air and much to his surprise, the flowers waved from side to side but there was no wind coming into the room. He peered closer and saw that the box had some writing on it but he couldn’t remember the sound a and i made when they were together so the letters didn’t make any sense.
He wanted to touch the flowers to see if they were real but just as he lifted a hand and moved his fingers into the box the petals started to change colour until the silver shapes spread across them turning each petal into a mirror. Tom was now looking at miniature reflections of himself. He peered closer as each of his reflections moved closer to him. What was going on? He couldn’t resist anymore. He picked up the flowers with both hands for a closer look. The petals swayed as if they were dancing, celebrating their freedom from the box. And as he lifted them closer to him, the stems started to grow with each flower reaching up towards him. There was an urgency in the way they moved as if they were stretching up and leaning in to tell him something. Then the petals started to hiss.
‘Help us. Please, help us.’
Tom’s heart beat hard and fast and fear filled the pit of his stomach. He felt sick but he was too scared to move.
‘Will you help us?’
‘Who are you?’
But the flowers didn’t reply. Instead the petals started to change again and Tom’s reflections disappeared. This time colours swirled around the petals and different shapes started to form. Tom’s eyes darted between the petals that were changing in different ways, too curious to use this moment to escape, then the shapes started to become clearer and faces started to appear. But they were not his face, none of them were his, all of them were different. And when the petals started to speak again there was more than one voice. There were several voices like they were several faces, each one belonging to a child who could easily be in his year.
‘You’re all talking. I can’t understand you.’
‘Alex, you talk.’ Tom wondered why this girl didn’t speak. She seemed confident enough.’
‘We’re trapped. We want to go home. We need your help. We’ve been stuck here for a very long time.’
Tom looked at the box. The sticker read 1538.
‘How long have you been here?
A sobbing sound came from one of the petals and the girl spoke again. ‘It’s ok, he’s going to get us out. We’re going to go home.’
‘How?’ Another voice cried.
Tom felt the urgency. ‘What do I need to do to help you?’ And for the first time he also felt he could make a difference. He wasn’t just the youngest anymore. He wasn’t the one that everyone felt they needed to protect. He could help someone too and it felt good. ‘If you tell me how you got in there, maybe that’ll help me get you out?’
Before any of the flowers could reply Tom heard his name being called. His parents were looking for him and there was panic in their voices. Tom also feared that if anyone found these flowers something terrible would happen to them. He promptly covered the box, vowing to himself that he would return as soon as he could to help free the children trapped in the flowers. But at that moment, he had no idea that he wouldn’t be returning for another year despite his desperate pleas. And when he did finally return after a long year of waiting, the staircase would have disappeared and Tom would be left wondering if the faces he saw on the flowers and their voices were in fact real. Or if he had simply fallen asleep behind a bush and dreamt the whole thing.