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Bravery is Overrated

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Stanley’s not proud of it, but he’s still scared of a lot of things: shadows moving in the darkness of his room, the painting in his father’s office, strange noises in the dead of night. He doesn’t like to think himself a coward, but something deep inside of him is worried that this may be exactly what he is.

He hates it—hates himself. And Stan wishes more than anything that he could just be brave, even if it’s just for a moment.

That’s how he winds up here, standing outside of the abandoned house on Neibolt, surrounded by dead grass and broken beer bottles and what he’s pretty sure is a used condom, but he refuses to look at it longer than he needs to.

The kids at school call him a pussy, a pretty boy, a flamer, and he’s tired of it. Even Bowers is scared of the house on Neibolt, and if he goes in there, well…they can’t call him a pussy anymore, can they? He just needs to bring back a souvenir, something as proof that he’s been in there.

“Come on Stanley,” he mutters to himself. The front porch steps creek under his weight as he shuffles up them, slow and hesitant. It feels like the house is watching him, ominous and oppressive and all-seeing. “It’s just a house.” He taps the doorknob three times, a habit ingrained in him since childhood. A part of him hopes the door will be locked.

It’s not.

It swings open in a plume of dust.

His ears are ringing, and Stan fights the urge to tug at his perfectly ironed shirt.

His shoes are going to get dirty.

“Just grab something and leave,” he whispers.

Stan steps over an old piece of plywood hammered to the doorframe; a sad attempt at keeping people out. There’s nothing in the entryway he can take with him, and he moves further into the house, taking in the cobwebs and the streams particles of dirt floating through the air, illuminated by the streaks of light trickling in through the boarded windows.

A part of him is struck with wonder at the sight. Underneath the grime, he can tell that the floor is real hardwood, with carefully crafted baseboards to match an intricate handrail of a winding staircase. In it’s prime, the house must have been magnificent.

Unfortunately, unless he wants to rip a light fixture off the wall, this room is bare too. There are doors on either side of him, and not wanting to chance the stairs, he chooses the one to his right. The floorboards creek much like the porch steps did as he moves across them, and like the front door, he taps the knob three times. Only, this door doesn’t open. He backs up and turns to the door to his left, repeating his ritual. This door doesn’t open either.

He eyes the stairs warily.

“It’s fine,” he mutters. The stairs look well-built and sturdy. They won’t collapse under his weight. Probably.

Stan’s mind is a mantra of ‘just be brave, just be brave, just be brave,’ and he thinks that Bill wouldn’t be afraid. Bill would walk in here, head held high, and march up these stairs as confident and sure as he would his own. He just needs to be like Bill, just for a few minutes. He can do that.

The first stair doesn’t even creak. Nor does the second, or the third. By the time he reaches the first landing where the stairs curve, he’s feeling more confident, and when he’s at the second, he feels ridiculous for being worried in the first place.

But then, Stanley takes his eyes off his feet and sees the mirror. It’s a simple thing, not too big, not to small—similar to the one his parents keep in the hallway off the dining room. The frame is simple and gold, oval in shape, and surprisingly polished in house that looks like it’s made entirely of dirt and dust.

It looks wrong here, almost as if it’s been ripped out of someone else’s home and pasted on the wall.

His reflection in it seems slight and very frightened; a soft sheen of sweat blooming on his forehead, his curls matting to his skin, his eyes wide and glassy. He does not look the slightest bit brave.

In the distance, he hears the front door slam shut, and suddenly, the house is plunged into darkness. The windows don’t let in nearly enough light.

Heart in his throat, Stanley forgets how to breathe.

His eyes bloom with tears, and one slides down cheek, catching at the corner of his lips. He licks it away without thinking. A minute passes in silence, and he’s still holding his breath, lungs burning.

There’s a deep, primal fear blooming inside of him.

He is so afraid, and he can’t pinpoint why.

The house is too quiet. This mirror doesn’t look right. It’s too dark.

He can’t breathe.

Then, his reflection moves. Fucking moves, and Stanley chokes on a shriek.

It’s just a tiny thing, a quirk of the lips, an arch of the eyebrows. But it moves in a way that he knows he’s not, and he wants to run, run, run, run but his feet are glued to the floor.

Gray spots begin to dance along his line of vision, falling like snowflakes, because he’s still not breathing—he can’t, he won’t. Stanley’s about to faint, right here in Neibolt, and there’s nothing he can do to stop it.

His reflection blinks. Grins. Lips too long, too wide, completely unnatural on a face that looks so much like his. And now there’s a sound from somewhere far away, a chugging like a clogged drain. And in the mirror, behind the him that’s not him, blood-black tendrils are climbing up the banister, slow like sludge.

He can’t look away.

There’s a smell in the air, like copper and mold, and a part of Stan is convinced that if he turns around, those same tendrils making their way across the floor in the mirror will be right behind him too. But Stan’s trapped in place, limbs like concrete, physically unable to move.

The reflection hunches forward, hovering closer to the glass, arms covered in a gelatinous, pulsating ooze that is very much alive, writhing and crawling over its wrists. Its chest does not move as Stanley finally takes a deep, gasping breath in. It presses its palms against the glass and gives a wet, hiccupping sound. There is blood smeared beneath its hands, and blood bubbling from between its smiling, shattered teeth.

The mirror cracks.

Stanley screams.

All of a sudden, there are cold hands pressed against his eyes, shielding him from what’s in front of him. Someone is holding him from behind.

“Don’t look.”

It’s a soft whisper in his ear, accent odd and lilting, hard to place.

“Can’t get you if you don’t look.”

The hands are tugging gently at him, guiding him blindly up the rest of the stairs.

“Come.”

Stan’s feet are uncoordinated, scrambling underneath him as his heart pounds frantically in his chest. He doesn’t believe in Hell, but if he did, he thinks that this would be it. This house, that thing, the mirror. He belatedly wonders if he should be afraid of this person with him.

“Is okay,” the voice soothes. “It can’t get you now.”

But he’s too grateful to be afraid. Whoever this person is, even if they’re a murderer or a cannibal, they’ve taken the time to save him from that thing, and he’s grateful.

The hands fall from his eyes and Stan blinks at the change in surroundings. He’s in a bedroom, just as filthy as the downstairs, blanketed in dust with only a bare mattress in corner. The single window is shielded with newspaper and magazine clippings, acting as a curtain, letting in only traces of gray light.

“Thank you,” Stan says, turning around to face his savior.

There’s something ethereal about him in a way—high cheekbones, high brows, dancing, dark eyes. His skin is moon white, luminescent, but there is still a smattering of freckles along the bridge of his nose across his cheeks. His lips are full and cherry red, almost as if they’re stained that way, and his hair is a tangled mess of black curls that fall around his neck and shoulders.

He’s…strangely breathtaking. Stan doesn’t like admitting it, but it’s true. There’s something enchanting about him, magnetic—like now that Stan’s looked at him, he can’t look away.

“Who are you?” he asks.

“HA!” the other boy laughs, and it’s a peculiar sound, too loud and far too amused for the question. “Better question is who are you? Not so often pretty boy like you wanders here.”

The back of Stan’s neck burns hot. He’s used to being called a pretty boy, but not in a complimentary way. It’s usually followed by a shove or a handful of mud smeared down the back of one of his pristine polo shirts.

“I’m…I’m Stan…” he mumbles, crossing his arms over his chest. “I was just…”

…trying to be brave.

“Stan,” the boy spits the name like it’s offended him. “Don’t like it. Doesn’t fit you.” He reaches out and places a hand on his shoulder. “You shake like the Kolibri. Like that more—will call you that.” He gives him a friendly pat.

“What’s a Kolibri?”

Kolibri is bird—don’t know American name for it. Cute little bastards.”

His savior seems fond of touching. He wraps one of Stan’s curls around his finger and gives a gentle tug, watching it spring back into place with a cheeky grin. The heat at the back of Stan’s neck spreads to his cheeks.

“What’s your name?” he tries again.

“Me? Am Boris.”

“Where are you from?”

“So many questions, Kolibri. Curious one, you are. No wonder you ended up here,” Boris says. His tone is light, almost teasing. He walks around Stan to flop onto the mattress. “I am from everywhere. Russia, Ukraine, Austria, Australia.”

“How did you end up in Derry? In Neibolt?”

Boris shrugs.

“How does anyone end up anywhere?”

Stan doesn’t have an answer for that.

From somewhere deep in the house, Stan hears giggling—the high pitched chitter of children much too young to be here. Cold dread races it way up his spin and he whips around towards the door, terrified that it’s about to burst open. To reveal what, he doesn’t know. But something is there, he can feel it.

“Ignore that,” Boris says. “Is just the house.”

“The house?”

“The house,” he agrees. When Stan faces him again, he looks serious. “They are alive, don’t you know? Some more than others.”

“I…That doesn’t make sense!”

“Does your mirror make sense? But you still saw it, no?”

“I..I don’t…the mirror…” Stan’s babbling, a string of incoherent nonsense, because what the other boy is saying isn’t right. People are afraid of Neibolt because it’s old and full of crackheads, not because it’s alive. And sure, maybe some kids that bragged about coming here have gone missing, like Betty and Patrick, but that’s just a coincidence. It’s just a house. Just a house!

Kolibri. Let me tell you something. Right now, you can do one of two things; just shut up, which is something I don’t find easy, or learn a lot very fast which is what I tried to do. It worked for me. Will work for you. Your world is different now.”

Stan looks up, eyes full of tears again, and he’s suddenly struck by the way a beam of light bounces off of Boris’s cheekbone. He feels that magnetic pull again, only this time it explodes in his chest, and he doesn’t know he’s moving until the toes of his clean, white shoes nudge Boris’s aged black ones. The boy looks up at him, impish and smiling.

“Are you ready to learn, Kolibri?”

And maybe it’s Stan’s imagination, or a trick of the light, but for a single moment, Boris’s dark eyes seem like the deepest shade of red he’s ever seen.

“Learn what?” Stan whispers.

The other boy reaches up, cupping his cheek in his hand. His palm is cold, like ice, like snow. It brings Stanley to his knees. His mind feels muddled, like his brain is surrounded by fog. He can’t think. He places both hands on the boy in front of him, one on his ankle, one on his leg, anything to ground him—to keep him from floating away.

“Everything.”

He’s already forgotten he asked a question; has no idea what Boris means by everything. And Boris must know this because he huffs a soft laugh. It fans across Stan’s face in a warm puff and he wants to breathe it in, absorb that laugh into his bones.

“I mean it when I say it’s not so often I see someone so pretty as you, Kolibri. I think I may even keep you.”

Keep you, keep you, keep you, keep you, keep you

It sounds like a song.

“Would you stay with me?”

Stay, stay, stay, stay, stay, stay

Stan’s too far gone to see the deep color of the other boy’s eyes brighten to vibrant scarlet, too enthralled with the echoes in his head to see the elongated teeth peeking out from behind a mischievous smirk.

“Yes.”