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<div align=center>[img[giftitle500.gif][Town1]]</div><<timed 1s>><<goto Bedroom3>><</timed>>The basement was always off-limits to you as a child, and an odd, occasional refuge as a teenager. It was dark and fusty, a chamber of unhidden secrets, lino floored with a low ceiling.<br><br>Boxes at the back of the basement contain old clothes and Christmas decorations, and lying staccato throughout the room is an untidy assortment of forgotten or cluttering artefacts: trowels and umbrellas, bicycles and luggage, picture frames and books. Thickly dusted, they throw the newer additions into higher light.<br><br>[>img[right.png][Basement2]]Buried under some folders of paperwork, you see crisp-edged cardboard boxes, clearly new. You remove the unimportant ring-binders and open a box. Inside, there are clothes you don’t recognise. But the smell refreshes the ache in your chest. These must have been sent back after dad died. Looking around, you realise most things in this basement were his, things that would probably have been thrown out if he’d been here to do it, but evidently mum never did. The things he held had become relics after his leaving.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Basement1]][>img[right.png][Basement3]]You put the ring-binders back. This basement has been turned into a tomb. You softly back away from these remains of the dead and return to the stairs, but the hollow sound of these steps is suddenly familiar again. You remember the sound of these steps one afternoon, long ago.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Basement2]][>img[right.png][BasementSpacer2]]<<set $rooms += 1>><<timed 1s>><<goto Basement1>><</timed>>Outside, the arrival of a summer storm had bruised the sky, and as you waited to be taken to football practise you could hear a crescendo of rain. At eleven years old, you’re sitting in the hallway, hugging your rucksack, praying for the rain to stop.<br><br>You enjoyed playing football and the solidarity of your teammates, but mostly you just needed to be out of the house. You could hear mum and dad arguing in the basement again. You rarely knew what they argued about and they mostly tried to keep it that way, so for the last few years they’d have the really big fights somewhere out of sight, sometimes the garden, sometimes the bedroom, sometimes the basement. But even in these smothered sounds you could trace the contours of their anger.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Basement3]][>img[right.png][Basement5]]
You had to leave soon. And the rain would have to stop. If it didn’t then practise would be cancelled, and you’d spend another weekend holed up in your room, having to read to avoid having to listen. Trying to scream the words loudly enough in your head to drown the voices from below.<br><br>All those nights you’d spent under the covers in your bedroom, reading by torchlight, needing company and having none. Of course, you didn’t know that’s what you needed at the time, and now you feel yourself sinking, commiserating with that lonely girl you used to be. If only you could reach out and hug her. Even that might have been enough.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Basement4]][>img[right.png][Basement6]]
A chair had thudded in the basement, slammed down to emphasise a point that wouldn’t stick.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Basement5]][>img[right.png][Basement7]]Maybe you could run away. The thought advanced itself often, but never with much energy. Where would you go? You weren’t interested in leaving town, this seaside world was too natural a home. Your friend Katie’s parents had a cottage not too far away, you could probably stay there. But then, how could you leave dad? He must need you just as much as you needed him, right?<br><br>Even this mutual need went unspoken though. In later life you’d comfort yourself that the most pivotal loves, like wars, go undeclared. But back then there was no relief from your isolation. It was constant, like a shortness of breath, like a winter frost. It was an eternity of days you could not light or furnish.<br><br>So you sat in the hallway or your bedroom or the garden, counting the ticks of the clock, describing patterns in the flowerbeds. Waiting for a change, or to be set free.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Basement6]][>img[right.png][Basement8]]Eventually, on this summer afternoon, the rain would stop. Eventually your parents would emerge from the basement, and your dad would take you to the car, doing his best impression of a smile. And a few hours from this moment sitting in the hallway, you’d step out onto the pitch.<br><br>The weather, the exhaustion, the ferocity of the game, everything would flow through you and melt away your fear, and the camaraderie would fill your heart, just for a little while. Your teammates would joke with you, laugh with pride when you score, and you’d laugh with them.<br><br>And after the game, when the others had gone home, sitting on the bench with a carton of juice, your coach would gently ask you why you’re crying. And you would lie and say it’s because you’re happy.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Basement7]][>img[right.png][Basement9]]But all that is hours away. In this moment, you’re just a lonely girl, sitting in the hallway, hugging your rucksack, praying for the rain to stop.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Basement8]][>img[right.png][Basement10]]<<timed 1s>><<goto Basement4>><</timed>>The back garden lives larger in your memory than it does in person. The lawn that you now cover in strides is pallid and bare, but in your childhood it was vibrant with flowers, and you would run around it, bouncing a football off the back wall, avoiding the petunias that banked the lawn. There used to be small rosebushes and ferns and tulips. Plants expressed deeper roots back then.<br><br>Now there's only short, dry grass. Dad used to do all the gardening. Over the years you spent a lot of time with him here, playing football or helping him cultivate the flowers. One afternoon, when you were very young, you watched him dig up the topsoil and were amazed to see countless squirming creatures, eating and moving and multiplying underfoot. The very earth you stood on was revealed as a kind of sea, immeasurable and without light.<br><br>[>img[right.png][Garden2]]The tree is still there. Scratches of your name in the bark remain, just around thigh-height. There are still two chairs beside the ornate wireframe table, all slowly rusting beneath white paint.<br><br>The chair whispers a creak as you sit down, and the setting sun casts a halo around you. It was sunset back then, too, the last time you saw him. If you had done more on that early autumn evening, maybe he wouldn’t have left.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Garden1]][>img[right.png][Garden3]]You’ve played this memory over and over throughout your life, so much that it’s become worn. But the clarity and colour the moment assumes now hits you with the force of revelation. You see yourself sitting in the other chair, your father at the garden door.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Garden2]][>img[right.png][GardenSpacer2]]<<set $rooms += 1>><<timed 1s>><<goto Garden1>><</timed>>At fourteen years old, you’re sat drinking a can of coke under the tree and a heavy, coppered sky. Your hair is a messy bob and the grass feels long beneath your feet. It’s an unremarkable autumn evening.<br><br>They’d had some argument, that was clear. Dad had sat down on the lawn, wordlessly, and stared up at the tree. As the minutes broke softly over your shared stillness, he appeared to unclench.<br><br><<timed 2s>>“Not too cold out tonight, eh?”<br><<next>>“No, it’s ok.”<br><br><<next>>[<img[left.png][Garden3]][>img[right.png][Garden5]]<</timed>>
You’d sipped from your coke, and the silence took on new clarity. Maybe that was the problem. Maybe the silence between you dealt its own attrition. You couldn’t have known though, could you? Despite what mum thought, it wasn’t your fault. Was it?<br><br>Dad had turned to you and sighed. In your usual memories of this evening he was always a little concerned, a little careworn. But here you're surprised to see that he isn't. Here he's a figure of self-assurance, a man about to move.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Garden4]][>img[right.png][Garden6]]He stood up and walked slowly to the garden door. Should you follow him? Was this an attempt at communication, at community? You couldn’t decide. And in this moment here, the moment of your indecision, everything was decided for you.<br><br>Dad would walk through the garden door and go upstairs. The next morning, he’d be gone, and as night descended again, mum would panic. Over the next few years she’d lose her tautness, become anxious and frazzled, aggressive. You would change in more subtle ways.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Garden5]][>img[right.png][Garden7]]Through your teenage years you would be minimally present. You’d spend your days running out of the house, running out of classes, running out of conversations to run out of. The world beyond your hometown had been a rumour not worth verifying, but you would come to realise later that you were just filling time until you could escape.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Garden6]][>img[right.png][Garden8]]This moment here was the last time you saw him. He turned at the garden door to smile at you, and you see yourself smile back. This messy girl, who didn’t know what was coming, smiles, and you’re shocked to see the same smile that you’d wear through into adulthood, that false smile of your father’s, like flimsy bunting, like a stage sunrise. Around you, the garden splendours with colour, and then fades back to a dry lawn.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Garden7]][>img[right.png][Garden9]]It’s time for you to leave the garden too. You breathe deeply to refresh your calm, while the chair creaks meekly. Then, with concerted effort, you make to leave, managing to finally break loose from these thoughts, of the lost childhood you’ve been helpless to mourn, of the time you were innocent, by standing.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Garden8]][>img[right.png][GardenSpacer3]]<<timed 1s>><<goto Garden4>><</timed>>The living room’s pink upholstery is frayed around the bottoms of the sofa and two armchairs, which cradle faded cushions in their corners. Magazines on the side tables parade a rural interest. There are recent issues on hiking, on fishing. There are gardening magazines – ironic considering the state of the garden.<br><br>Against the walls are more photographs of you and your parents. Here’s dad showing you how to ride a bicycle. Over here all three of you are wearing Christmas hats. This here is some early birthday party. But these memories are unavailable to you. Instead you remember this wall, which you were made to stand against for hours when you were being punished. You remember this dining table where you did your school homework, but somehow were never trying hard enough for mum's satisfaction.<br><br>[>img[right.png][LivingRoom2]]The dining table is now littered with embroidery patterns, and you sit down to examine them. Most of these are birds, alone in portrait, or in concert within a landscape. They are hand-designed, not bought, and many seem to be drafts, with stitches erased and amended, or elements embellished on second consideration. There are only these designs though, there is no actual embroidery here.<br><br>[<img[left.png][LivingRoom1]][>img[right.png][LivingRoom3]]Is this what you expected? These are the bricolage of a life that continued unchallenged. Did she regret what she did? Did she ever even care that she scarred you that night? There’s nothing here to say.<br><br>You were wrong to come back. There are no answers here. What confrontation or closure could there be in this place that freighted so much loneliness and fear?<br><br>[<img[left.png][LivingRoom2]][>img[right.png][LivingRoom4]]You turn away and walk to the door. But the pink edges of the room start to fray and fade and a white noise rises in your ears, and now you see yourself, eighteen years old, crying mascara down a face twisted in anger, standing in the centre of the whirling past.<br><br>[<img[left.png][LivingRoom3]][>img[right.png][LivingRoomSpacer2]]<<timed 1s>><<goto LivingRoom1>><</timed>>School was over. You had already surrendered the summer to shiftless procrastination, and now you felt the pull of those empty days stretching behind you, like a dulling string of pearls, like the aching silence of unstruck piano keys. On this night, you’d been at a party at your boyfriend’s house.<<timed 2s>><br><br>“You can stay over if you want? It’s raining pretty hard out there.”<<next>><br><br>You’d looked back into his house, his gang of slumped friends clogging all possible paths to fun.<<next>><br><br>“It’s fine, I don’t mind the rain.” You tried for a nonchalant smile. “See you tomorrow, I guess.”<br><br>[<img[left.png][LivingRoom4]][>img[right.png][LivingRoom6]]<</timed>>The sky looked like smudged ink, and as you wended your tipsy way through the pummelling rain, you dreamed of pouring yourself into bed. Your footsteps on the gravel beach syncopated with the rhythm of the waves, and you marvelled at the beat of the world that kept you walking even through this downpour. Maybe that’s what happened to dad – maybe one day he just kept walking, to a hidden metre pulsing from within. Maybe one day you’d keep walking too.<br><br>You dragged your feet through the gravel to leave deeper tracks, and the sea-salt breeze brushed through your hair.<br><br>[<img[left.png][LivingRoom5]][>img[right.png][LivingRoom7]]As you approached the house, you saw the faint amber glow of a lamp throw shadows onto the curtains. She was still awake. Just like her to be sitting in ambush for you. No doubt mum was rehearsing how to belittle you, nourishing her viciousness.<br><br>Or maybe she was staring unfocussed into the television again. She’d been chasing the loose threads of soap opera plots with increasing shamelessness, yet continued to berate you for wasting your life. Ugh. You couldn’t deal with that tonight. You’d have to sneak up to your bedroom.<br><br>[<img[left.png][LivingRoom6]][>img[right.png][LivingRoom8]]Closing the front door with practised care, you felt like a burglar in your own home. You concentrated on the staircase and checked your breathing. With years of evading your mother’s rants, you had subconsciously mapped every creaking floorboard of this house.<br><br>[<img[left.png][LivingRoom7]][>img[right.png][LivingRoom9]]Hearing her voice for the first time in ten years, your blood freezes. And there she is now, in the armchair, her wild, greying hair, her sharp features. Peering out at the ghost of your teenage self, her eyes are like flint in the darkness, hard and quick.<br><br>“Come here! Where have you been?”<br><br>[<img[left.png][LivingRoom8]][>img[right.png][LivingRoom11]]“Emma!”
<<timed 2s>><<goto LivingRoom10>><</timed>>Your eighteen-year-old self enters the room, head hazy with booze and fear. You remember that daze, that inability to resist your mother’s beckoning, though the girl in front of you shows no outward signs apart from her trembling hands, which she tries to hide with folded arms.<br><br><<timed 2s>>“At a party, mum. I’m going to bed.”<br><br><<next>>“You stand right there!!”<br><br><<next>>You flinch, together.<br><br>[<img[left.png][LivingRoom10]][>img[right.png][LivingRoom12]]<</timed>>“I don’t know what’s gotten into you! Always skiving off or squandering your time! What are you going to do when I’m not here to support you? You think you can just party forever?”<br><br>Wringing at her bracelets now, the anger rose in your teenage vision. Fuck her! Why was she always shouting at you, making you feel small?<br><br>“You’ve got to get serious about your life, Emma! You can’t just drift through everything like your father!” She was finding her pitch, her spittle-flecked fervour terrifying you as much now as it had ten years ago. “Just because he’s gone doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want!”<br><br>[<img[left.png][LivingRoom11]][>img[right.png][LivingRoom13]]“What?! Why are you always saying this stuff to me? I’m not doing whatever I want! I don’t want to be //here//! I don’t want to be in this house with //you//!”<br><br><<timed 2s>>“How //dare// you talk to me like that!!”<br><br><<next>>Oh. You’d forgotten you’d said that. In the doorway, you see this trembling girl squash her hands into tiny fists.<br><br>[<img[left.png][LivingRoom12]][>img[right.png][LivingRoom14]]<</timed>><<timed 1s>><<goto LivingRoom5>><</timed>>You ran out of the room and up the stairs. Five minutes later, you’d be running down the street with a barely packed bag, back to your boyfriend’s house.<br><br>The next morning, in the mist of your hangover and your dejection, you’d remember how you knew your mother always hated you, how she'd always blamed you for something you didn’t do, how she screamed that it was your fault.<br><br>You'd remember it that way for another ten years.<br><br>[<img[left.png][LivingRoom15]][>img[right.png][LivingRoomSpacer4]]<<timed 1s>><<goto LivingRoom16>><</timed>>The gravel crunches beneath you as you sit down, the landscape a featureless blur through frost and tears. Behind you, the faint amber glow of streetlights on the marina blend into a night sky clear and uncontained.<br><br>[>img[right.png][Beach2]]You blow your nose and wipe your cheeks, and as your vision returns you notice the lights across the Channel. You trace their line across the horizon, then up, as they give way to stars.<br><br>You’d forgotten what they look like by the sea. So many stars, like flint in the darkness, like the exit wounds of every misfired word.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Beach1]][>img[right.png][Beach3]]Footsteps muffled in gravel approach from the direction of town. And now you see your mother walking up the beach, shuffling, grey and frail. You want to call to her, but ten years of words are fighting in your throat and you can’t get any of them out.<br><br>As you stand, her gaze stops on you. You see the fast tears in her eyes and the slow smile on her lips as she looks up, lifted.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Beach2]][>img[right.png][Beach4]]<<timed 1s>><<goto Beach1>><</timed>>A Sea View, with Exit Wounds
by Maxamillian John
<<timed 3s>>Artwork by <a href=http://matiasmorelbalbi.tumblr.com/><u>Matias Morel Balbi</u></a>
<<next>>Special thanks to <a href=http://lizziesmyth.com/><u>Elizabeth Smyth</u></a> and <a href=https://twitter.com/gwmariani><u>Giorgio Mariani</u></a> for their feedback and support
<<next>>Thanks to Greg Opie, Hanna Gillespie-Gallery and Meredith Hull for their proofreading and patience
<<next>>Title inspired by Ocean Vuong’s //Night Sky with Exit Wounds//
<<next>>The prose for this story is available as a single document <a href=http://maxamillianjohn.com/exitwoundstext.html><u>here</u></a>
<<next>>Coded in Twine 2
Ⓒ Maxamillian John, 2017
<</timed>><i>The mist comes and goes.<br><br>In the winter, it hangs thinly around the gravel beach, suspended like a stage curtain before the English Channel.<br><br>In darker days, it reaches out into town, wrapping itself around the old arcades and fish-and-chip shops, muffling the streets and the fields and the marina. The sea is invisible through its heavy embrace.<br><br>But occasionally, the mist melts away entirely. The curtain parts and a scene opens up to you, like a hidden truth, like a lost memory. Waves rake at tracks in the gravel, and you can hear distant birds, alone or in concert.<br><br>On a clear day, you can see the shores of Calais across the water.</i><br><br><div align=center>[img[down.png][Title]]</div>Your train slouches into the station. It’s late winter, and morning has finally struggled through the clouds, though the landscape remains a featureless blur through frost and glass.<br><br>You’re listening to the voicemail again. The woman in the hospital is telling you, as if for the first time, that your father is dead.<br><br>Her voice is clear and unwavering, that’s not the reason you can’t hear her properly. It’s the rush of inchoate emotions when you think about him, the sense of being dragged back to the centre of the whirling past.<br><br>[<img[left.png][START]][>img[right.png][Town2]]You can smell the cold sea air as soon as you step out of the station. The path from here to your old family house winds first through two alleys, between more cheap supermarkets than the town looks like it can sustain, through the unsettled shadows of lumbering buildings from '70s pessimism, and then out onto the marina. You could close your eyes and still end up home, pulled through the streets by childhood’s specific gravity.<br><br>Under this milky white sky the town is sullen and empty – although whether it ever gets ‘busy’ here is a matter of uncertain debate. Vacant cafés and pound shops sadden the corners. Outside an off-license, truant teenagers are smoking like they’ve been to war.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Town2]][>img[right.png][Town4]]These are the same streets you fled through that last night, the night you ran away. You remember the sound of rain on the tarmac, you remember the hot autumn air, the taste of cheap beer. You remember your mother in the living room.<br><br>You always knew she resented you. The way she sniped at you when you were a child blossomed into full-throated shrieking after dad left. But you could never be ready for what she said, what she screamed at you that night.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Town3]][>img[right.png][TownSpacer1]]“You stupid bitch! You’re the reason he left! It was your fault!”
<<timed 4.5s>><<goto TownSpacer2>><</timed>>That one rebuke echoed through your life. It framed your thought, intercepted you before sleep, corroded every memory of your childhood. Over the years you made an unsteady peace with the fact of your mother’s hatred, but you could never forgive nor understand it.<br><br>[<img[left.png][TownSpacer1]][>img[right.png][Town7]]You arrive at the beach and the sea unfurls before you like an endless banner. This is where you used to walk, so long ago. The salted breeze sends your hair lashing to the side, and the gravel crunches beneath your feet. You prefer the gravel to the trackless streets. Gravel holds impressions, it shows you where you’ve come from. You drag your feet to leave deeper tracks.<br><br>And half a mile up, you reach the old house. It’s just like you remember. The delicate front garden tells a utopian tale of comfort and precision, the walls are pebbledashed in white with yellow, red and blue, like tutti frutti ice cream, like a taste of summer.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Town6]][>img[right.png][Town8]]Mum would be out at work right now. Maybe you should go to a pub, or take a walk around town.<br><br>You stand in the front garden. What are you even going to say to her when you do see her? It’s been ten years. Can anything really have changed?<br><br>You approach the door, and you find that your old key still works.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Town7]][>img[right.png][TownSpacer3]]The house is strangely cold. Countless times as a child you would run in from the frost and lean back on the inside of the door, cracked lips, cheeks quickly blushing. It felt like the house itself rising to hug you. Now, as you brace yourself against the cold’s unyielding insistence, you feel unwelcome.<br><br>The hallway itself hasn’t changed – peach wallpaper, tightly-woven carpet – but it seems newly disciplined. There used to be paintings on these walls. The shelves at the far side are rigorously regimented, though heavily burdened by books and papers. You shouldn't be surprised. Your mother’s exacting standards have reigned unopposed here for a decade now. There’s a family photo beside the telephone: you, mum and dad fishing at dawn, somewhere in the suspended past. You’re all smiling.<br><br>[>img[right.png][Hallway1b]]<<timed 1s>>Hello, this is a message for Emma...<br><br><<next 2s>>My name is Shelly and I’m calling from the Xxxx Hospital. I’m sorry to inform you that your father is dead. You were listed as his daughter. It took us a while to find you.<br><br><<next 5s>>The coroner reported the cause of death as blood loss. Your father was in a car accident. The exit wounds couldn’t be closed. We did everything we could, but his injuries were very severe.<br><br><<next 5s>>We’re so sorry for your loss.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Hallway1a]][>img[right.png][Hallway1c]]<</timed>>
Three doors hurry off the hallway, one to the living room, one to the kitchen and one to the garden. The stairs lead up to the bedrooms and down to the basement.
[[iii. Garden|GardenSpacer1]]Back in the hallway you notice the blunt dings of the radiator. Mum must have the heating on a timer now. The metallic ringing complements the wind-chimes outside, and you stand here for a minute absorbing their gentle message of calm.<br><br>This harmony somehow makes the house feel emptier. The books on the far shelf are too stiffly aligned, the curiously bare coat rack looks like a domestic creature’s unearthed skeleton.<br><br>[>img[right.png][Hallway2b]]But it’s obvious from the drying laundry and family photos that mum still keeps an active life here. Is this how she lives when there’s no one left to disparage? In this ascetic world of household platitudes?<br><br>The living room draws on your attention.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Hallway2a]][>img[right.png][Hallway2c]]The living room was the battleground for your last fight. You’d come home late, through the pummelling rain, she’d been sitting in ambush. Her eyes were like flint in the darkness, hard and quick.<br><br>“You stupid bitch! You’re the reason he left! It was your fault!”<br><br>[<img[left.png][Hallway2b]][>img[right.png][Hallway2d]]The living room draws on your attention. But you know you can’t go back in there.
<<if hasVisited("Bedroom1")>>i. ==Bedroom==<</if>><<if not hasVisited("Bedroom1")>>[[i. Bedroom|BedroomSpacer1]]<</if>><<if hasVisited("Basement1")>><br>ii. ==Basement==<</if>><<if not hasVisited("Basement1")>><br>[[ii. Basement|BasementSpacer1]]<</if>><<if hasVisited("Garden1")>><br>iii. ==Garden==<</if>><<if not hasVisited("Garden1")>><br>[[iii. Garden|GardenSpacer1]]<</if>>In the hallway you bristle at what mum has done to this place. It’s solemn and without cheer. But this is exactly what she always wanted, a clean life, without you. Why should she get to have this new, clean life, when you have to live subject to the merciless past?<br><br>The sun is setting, but light through the living room curtains still picks out shapes in the dimness of that hateful place.<br><br>[>img[right.png][Hallway3b]]She’d pinned you with her voice when you’d tried to sneak past the living room. Your head was hazy with booze and fear, you were wringing at your bracelets in terror. She despised you. She //hated// you.<br><br>“You stupid bitch! You’re the reason he left! It was your fault!”<br><br>[<img[left.png][Hallway3a]][>img[right.png][Hallway3c]]The sun is setting, but light through the living room curtains still picks out shapes in the dimness of that hateful place. You can't face that room.
<<if hasVisited("Bedroom1")>>i. ==Bedroom==<</if>><<if not hasVisited("Bedroom1")>>[[i. Bedroom|BedroomSpacer1]]<</if>><<if hasVisited("Basement1")>><br>ii. ==Basement==<</if>><<if not hasVisited("Basement1")>><br>[[ii. Basement|BasementSpacer1]]<</if>><<if hasVisited("Garden1")>><br>iii. ==Garden==<</if>><<if not hasVisited("Garden1")>><br>[[iii. Garden|GardenSpacer1]]<</if>>As you flick on the lights in the hallway, the space contracts around you, the walls press in on you, and a crackle of static is in the air, as if anything you touch might trigger some catastrophic discharge.
Why did you come back here? For comfort, for answers? To know why dad left, or whether the night that scarred you so deeply had left even the shallowest mark on your mother?
The living room sits, coiled, ready to attack. You feel it inhaling. Fine. It’s time.
[[iv. Living room|LivingRoomSpacer1]]
Through a southern window, a thin draft troubles dust across the small desk and bookshelves, chasing the last, unsure light of winter.<br><br>Your room is exactly as you remember: painfully curated walls of posters and concert ticket stubs, photographs and drawings. You didn’t quite pack the night you ran out, haste overbearing but not with much loss as you now browse the things left behind, untouched. Stickers, CDs, too many scrunchies. The inessential half-read books of your youth still jostling beside the bed.<br><br>It looks so small, the bed. It feels like a stranger to you now. Is that a betrayal? This sweet blue bed that hid you when you were scared, warmed you when you were cold. It looks so small to bear the weight of all those unremembered dreams.<br><br>[>img[right.png][Bedroom2]]There’s a drawer under the bed, and as you approach it you’re struck by a memory so powerfully that you can see your younger self in the room. You’re kneeling by the bed, eight years old, still in your pyjamas, shaking with fear, a cracked doll in your hand.<br><br>Your world recedes, and the memory of that morning twenty years ago renders before you in vivid colour.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Bedroom1]][>img[right.png][BedroomSpacer2]]<<set $rooms += 1>><<timed 1s>><<goto Bedroom1>><</timed>>It was a Saturday, and you’d woken up to the return of spring and a sapphired sky.<br><br>Surrounded by dolls, action figures, and soft, stuffed friends, you’d started the day hosting a celebratory feast to mark the defeat of an army of green plastic soldiers. Your champion, Lion-o of the Thundercats, was joined by his lieutenant Cheetara, and their guests comprised of assorted Barbies, flame-haired troll dolls, and Snarf.<br><br>“What’s that you have there, Lion-o?” said Disney’s Alice, fearing the decline of good manners.<br>“It’s the Sword of Omens, heirloom of the Thundercats!”<br>“I daresay it is, but surely not at the table?”<br><br>[<img[left.png][Bedroom2]][>img[right.png][Bedroom4]]Sun Jewel Barbie was about to spill the tea when dad walked in. “By the Eye of Thundera, what’s going on here?”<br><br>He’d been gardening – improving the land while protecting his time from mum. Sweat dampened his clothes in musty stains, and as he sat down on the edge of the bed, your eight-year-old self wrinkled her nose in disapproval.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Bedroom3]][>img[right.png][Bedroom5]]“We’re having a party.”<<timed 2s>><br>“Ah, and who’s winning?”<<next>><br>“It’s a party, dad! Nobody wins!”<<next>><br>“Wow, it sounds a lot like mum’s parties!”<br><br><<next>>You laughed, and your heart aches to remember it. Those spring weekends with him were full of laughter, like bubbles fizzing up through the days, like rich birdsong in the stillness.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Bedroom4]][>img[right.png][Bedroom6]]
<</timed>>Dad picked up a porcelain doll mum had given you, an heirloom or something. At your previous birthday, in addition to the toys dad gave you, she had handed you this doll with visible reluctance. She thought dad was spoiling you, had openly said as much during the party, drawing some awkward stares. You remember thinking she shouldn’t have bothered if she didn’t want you to have it – it was a creepy doll anyway.<br><br>“Well, don’t let mum see you playing with this,” dad said, resting the doll against a pillow, out of harm’s way. “I don’t think she’s in a good mood today. I’ll be in the workshop, so I’ll see you at lunch.”<br><br>[<img[left.png][Bedroom5]][>img[right.png][Bedroom7]]It wasn’t fair. He got to evade mum by going down to the basement whenever he wanted, but you’d have to endure her all day if she decided to make an issue of herself. You picked up the doll. Ugh, it was so ugly and weird. Its red cheeks and lifeless eyes gave it a demonic aspect, and its clothes smelled stale. You hated it! You didn’t want a present from her anyway, it’s not like she cared about your birthday.<br><br>You threw the doll at the furthest wall, where it hit with a sickening *CRACK*.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Bedroom6]][>img[right.png][Bedroom8]]An immediate, white-washing panic took you. You couldn’t think. Oh no no no, it wasn’t broken, was it?<br><br>You ran over and saw the long fracture across its cheek. Oh god, mum was going to be so angry. The break was too large to fix. Glue wouldn’t work. The side of the doll’s face gaped as you picked it up.<br><br>The blood that drained from you now came back, you flushed in shame and fear, your hands shaking, wringing, as you thought of mum and how she would scream at you. You couldn’t deal with that today – you’d have to hide the doll somewhere. She would find it eventually, of course, but this would give you time to select your excuses. Oh, she was going to be so angry.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Bedroom7]][>img[right.png][Bedroom9]]You tried to hold back damp whimpers as you buried the doll deep in the drawer under your bed, deep in next year's school clothes, breathless, choking, telling yourself it would be okay, once you bought a little time. It would be okay, once you figured out what to tell her.<br><br>"It'll be okay," you were saying it out loud now, a sob exiled from prayer. "It'll be okay... Please be okay."<br><br>[<img[left.png][Bedroom8]][>img[right.png][Bedroom10]]You closed the draw while your hot tears began to fall.<br><br>The memory of this eight-year old girl fades from the room, and you shore yourself against the wave of hurt and anger.<br><br>And you snap back to the present, tense.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Bedroom9]][>img[right.png][BedroomSpacer3]]The memory fades, leaving you alone again, waiting against some fragile future. You take a last look at the basement, and for the first time you notice the deflated football in the corner.<br><br>And you exit, wounded.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Basement9]][>img[right.png][BasementSpacer3]]<<timed 1.5s>><<goto Town5>><</timed>>“You've always hated me, and you’ve always blamed me, mum! But it was never my fault! You stupid bitch! //You’re// the reason he left! It was //your// fault!”<<timed 4s>><br><br>[<img[left.png][LivingRoom14]][>img[right.png][LivingRoomSpacer3]]<</timed>>“Hello, Emma.”<<timed 3s>><br><br><br><br><div align=center>[img[down.png][BeachSpacer2]]</div><</timed>><<timed 1s>><<goto Town6>><</timed>><<set $rooms to 0>>
<<timed 1s>><<goto Hallway1a>><</timed>><<if $rooms eq 1>><<goto [[Hallway2a]]>><</if>>
<<if $rooms eq 2>><<goto [[Hallway3a]]>><</if>>
<<if $rooms eq 3>><<goto [[Hallway4]]>><</if>><<if $rooms eq 1>><<goto [[Hallway2a]]>><</if>>
<<if $rooms eq 2>><<goto [[Hallway3a]]>><</if>>
<<if $rooms eq 3>><<goto [[Hallway4]]>><</if>><<if $rooms eq 1>><<goto [[Hallway2a]]>><</if>>
<<if $rooms eq 2>><<goto [[Hallway3a]]>><</if>>
<<if $rooms eq 3>><<goto [[Hallway4]]>><</if>><<timed 1s>><<goto BeachSpacer1>><</timed>><<timed 2s>><<goto Credits>><</timed>>“How am I supposed to talk to you?! You’re always shouting at me!”<br><br><<timed 2s>>“I am //not// always shouting at you! You’re just like your father, playing the victim, feeling sorry for yourself. It’s time you sorted your life out!”<br><br><<next 2s>><<next>>“Shut up! Stop shouting at me! You’re always having a go at me, and now that dad’s left you’re even worse! But I didn’t do that!”<br><br><<next 3s>>“What? Emma, that’s n-”<br><br><<next 2s>>“I know you blame me for it, mum!”<br><br><<next>>“Emma, I-”<br><br><<next>>No wait, this doesn’t make sense. You remember saying that now, but the seething rage and the thickening hatred, those are //hers//, they’re supposed to be //her// words. How ca-<br><br>[<img[left.png][LivingRoom13]][>img[right.png][LivingRoom15]]<</timed>>The nurse is saying something about it taking a while to find you. She’s saying she’s sorry for your loss. You feel no loss.<br><br>Your father ran out when you were fourteen, exactly half your life ago, abandoning you to your venomous mother. You yourself ran out of town when you were eighteen, crying in the rain. That was a decade ago, and you haven’t been back here since.<br><br>[<img[left.png][Town1]][>img[right.png][Town3]]