When Midnight Strikes - Madman's Mansion

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This is going to be the first story of a horror series similar to kiddie short-horror-stories like Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark? Please review and offer both your positive and negative reviews/criticism.

Thank you, and enjoy your impending doom.

I shivered. We were at the food court inside the mall, just by the beach. I could see outside the window the huge black cloud hanging low over the sea. A few minutes ago, we had been swimming and playing under the hot sun.

"It's going to rain," I said, as the air got colder. "Hurry up and finish eating!"

Kwan pushed away his bowl of porridge. He was my younger brother, always arguing with everyone.

"I don't want to go home," he moaned. "There's nothing to do."

Kwan looks like me, only I'm twelve and he's ten, and I'm skinny and he isn't.

My little sister Charmaine pulled a face. She was chewing on a prata.

"There is!" she said. "My new computer game."

Charmaine is nine. She looks more like Mum, with big eyes and long hair. Everyone says how pretty she is.

"Stop fighting," I told them. That's the trouble with being the eldest. Mum and Dad keep making me responsible for the others. "Let's go!"

I led the way to where our bikes were leaning, on the fence not far from the mall. We packed our towels and swimming costumes into our baskets.

"It will take us twenty minutes to ride home," I calculated. "I hope we can beat that storm."

"Leng, let's take the short cut!"

Kwan pointed to a track which led into the trees behind the beach. It wasn't really a jungle, just a lot of trees and bushes on a small hill. And I knew the main road was on the other side.

"You're not allowed!" Charmaine protested.

"Who said?!" demanded Kwan.

I tried to make peace. As I would soon find out, it was the worse thing I ever did in my life!

"Kwan's right. We could save ten minutes," I said. "Otherwise we have to go all the way back through the car park."

"But it looks scary!" Charmaine looked so frightened that I put my arm around her shoulder.

"Why are girls always like that?" chided Kwan.

If only I'd listened to Charmaine!

"Come on..." I started to ride along the rocky track away from the mall. I glanced out to sea. The cloud was much closer and the ships had disappeared behind a curtain of rain.

As we drew nearer the trees, they seemed a lot bigger. We had never been along this path before. Come to think of it, I'd never seen anyone else going this way either.

We had just cycled into the shadowy trees when the first drops of rain fell. Big, cold splashes that stung my hot skin.

"We're going to get wet," grumbled Kwan.

"You were complaining how hot you were on the beach," I reminded him.

"Leng, let's go back and wait at the mall," pleaded Charmaine. "It's creepy in here!"

"There's nothing to worry about," I called back.

After all, it was broad daylight.

The mall was only a few yards behind us.

And the main road was just up ahead through the trees.

What could possibly go wrong, I asked myself. Hah, stupid question!

The path became narrower. And darker. And the trees were even taller, with branches that drooped down like big hands. Tangled vines and bushes blocked out the view on all sides.

And there were no sounds. No birds, no insects. Just the scrape and swish of our wheels on the sandy ground.

The little forest seemed to be swallowing us up. But that was ridiculous, wasn't it?

Suddenly, the path took a sharp bend. Our way was barred by a big metal pole. It had been painted red and white, but now it was chipped and rusty. It rested across the track on two blocks of concrete. Someone had chained a sign to it.


Kwan's bicycle wobbled to a stop. Charmaine cycled up beside us. We looked at the words.


Well, we had been warned!
I clambered down, looking all around. Have you ever felt that someone, somewhere, is watching you? It was crazy, I knew. We were alone, weren't we?

"I want to go back," whimpered Charmaine.

"We can't," Kwan started to say.

We jumped. The flash of lightning had burst around us. It was blinding. The ground shook. A roll of thunder cracked above our heads. I looked ahead. The path was deserted.

"I can't see anyone building anything," I told them. More spots of rain fell, heavier now. "Look, we'd better keep going. It's not far to the road."

"Leng, no!" Charmaine shouted.

But I was already crouching down, slipping under the pole. I lifted my bicycle over to the other side.

"Come on!" I signaled them.

First Kwan hoisted his bicycle up and over the pole. Then I lifted Charmaine's bicycle across, while she darted beneath the pole.

Kwan looked down the path, frowning. It twisted off into the trees. For the first time he looked uncertain.

"What if we get into trouble?" he asked.

"If people were working here, the path would be a lot wider. There'd be tyre tracks of lorries." How clever I sounded! "We've come this far, we might as well keep going."

Charmaine shot me a glance that was as black as the sky.

We rode forward in silence. The leaves were rustling in the chill breeze. My thin tee-shirt was flapping against my skin. I forced myself to look back and smile.

"Not far now," I reassured them.

And that was when it happened.

The path opened out into a clearing, fringed by high lalang grass and thick bamboo. There, in the centre, stood a ruined bungalow, the most forlorn house I had ever seen. It must have been a mansion once. The remains of a gravel drive, overgrown with trees, wound up to its old porchway. Tree roots and vines twisted around the huge columns. The walls were streaked with black and green. Empty windows stared at us like eyes. Rotting shutters hung beside them. Above the second floor, the roof had partly caved in, leaving rafters sticking up like fingers into the sky.

"Wow!" gasped Kwan. "Just like the movies..."

There was a shattering explosion of thunder. The rain hammered down. We raced across to shelter under the porch, as though an unseen hand was pushing us towards the derelict house.

We caught our breath, huddling under the porch. It looked like it could fall down at any minute. Water leaked through in places, splashing onto the old tiled steps.

"It's all your fault!" Charmaine accused Kwan.

"It's not!" He ducked aside as a stream of water suddenly poured through another hole in the roof.

"At least we have some cover here," I began, the peacemaker again!

Another roll of thunder echoed around the clearing. Was it my imagination or had it got darker?

"I wonder who lived here?" Kwan asked.

"Who cares?" Charmaine trembled. "I want to go home, Leng!"

"Shhhh!" Kwan's eyes were wide. "What was that?"

"What was what?" I shook my head. "I didn't hear anything."

"Stop scaring me!" begged Charmaine.

"Listen!" Kwan leaned towards the wooden door. "Inside..."

Charmaine gripped my arm and I hugged her.

"Just the rain," I told Kwan.

"No," he insisted. "It was-"

It was a creaking sound. We all heard it. Like ancient timber, being dragged by something. A groaning, weary kind of noise.

The old front door.

It was moving.

Very slowly.

It was starting to open...
Charmaine screamed.

Kwan jumped.

I could feel my heart begin to hammer.

The door seemed to have a life of its own. It drew back, inch by inch, then stopped.

"It m-m-must be the wind," Kwan stammered.

I moved towards it.

"You can't go in here!" Charmaine dug her fingers into my arm.

"I'm not, I just want to have a look."

The door had opened about half way. Beyond it, a dark corridor led me into the gloom. The floorboards were rotten, all wet and slimy, and I could hear dripping sounds from deep within the house.

Moving closer, I peered up at the old ceiling. The plaster was dangling like tentacles. I sniffed. A dank smell filled the air.

"There must be somebody behind the door," Kwan whispered.

"I'll soon find out," I said. "You and Charmaine get ready to run!"

I pushed against the door. Nothing happened. I took a breath and shoved harder. There was a splintering sound. The door collapsed in a shower of dust.

"See, it's empty. There's nobody here," I told him.

Kwan swallowed. He edged forward, dragging Charmaine with him.

We could see other doors, all shut, lining the wrecked corridor. There were no sounds, just the falling rain and the water dripping down through the ruined roof.

"Yuk!" Charmaine screwed up her nose. "What a mess."

"We should explore it," suggested Kwan. "It doesn't look very scary now."

"I'm not going in there!" Charmaine declared angrily.

"Girls!" laughed Kwan. "Well you can stay out here, all alone!"

"Not fair!" she said.

"It could be very dangerous," I warned. "It's an old house, about to be pulled down. It may not be safe to walk around in there."

But Kwan had stepped inside even before I'd finished. He was heading across to the nearest door.

Charmaine folded her arms like Mum does when she's angry.

"Why are you walking on tip-toe like that?" she demanded.

Kwan waved back to her. "So the ghosts won't hear me coming!" He gave a cackling laugh.

"Be careful!" I shouted.

"Why? It's safe if you know where to put your feet-"

There was a sudden cracking noise and the floor gave way. Kwan dropped through, grabbing the edges at the last minute.

"Help me!" he wailed.

"Told you!" I shook my head.

Carefully, step by step, I made my way towards him. I was on tip-toe, too, testing each board before I put my weight on it. Once, I could feel the floor groaning beneath me. Quickly, I changed my position.

At last, I was beside him. I reached down and took his arms.

I hauled him out, and stood panting for a minute.

"Are you alright?" I breathed.

"Of course I am!" Kwan answered hotly, brushing dust from his shirt.

"Come out of there!" ordered Charmaine from the doorway.

"Let's go!" I told Kwan, grasping his arm.

But he slipped free and stepped across to the first door. He tried the old, rusted handle. It turned easily.

Kwan pushed the door. It swung open. He gave a loud cheer. Then, he stood to attention and bowed to me like a doorman. He did one of his terrible imitations, like those old men you see in the horror movies.

"Do come inside," he smirked. "This is where we keep the bodies..."

The next minute, he had vanished into the room, and there was silence.

"Kwan!" I yelled. I closed my eyes. Mum and Dad would kill me when they heard about this!

"Where did he go?" Charmaine yelled, stepping gingerly down the corridor.

I took her hand, and together, we followed Kwan...

...into a big, empty room!

"Kwan?" I called.

There was no sign of him. Just a vast, abandoned room, with walls decayed by mould and damp, and a broken chair lying in one corner.

"Look!" Charmaine pointed to the shadows on the other side.

A second door!

"He's hiding!" she whispered.

But he wasn't!

Because when we hurried across, opened it and looked inside...

...Kwan had gone!
My eyes circled every inch of the inky black space. I could make out steps, leading down.

"Do you-do you think Kwan went down there?" Charmaine asked softly.

"Yes, and I'll bet he's waiting somewhere to scare us!"

I shivered. It was suddenly very cold.

"I've got a better idea," I whispered. "Let's go back outside and wait for him there!"

Charmaine giggled. "He'll soon get frightened of the dark and come out!"

Too late!

As we turned, a sharp gust of wind slammed the door shut. I rattled the handle. It wouldn't turn. It was jammed.

Charmaine's voice was hollow. "Leng, we can't get out..."

I swallowed.

Something was very wrong. Very wrong. But what?

"I guess we have no choice," I said, as calmly as I could. "We'll have to follow Kwan - down there!"

I took Charmaine's hand. I stared down into the gloom in horror. One step at a time, we climbed down. My hand touched the wall. It was cold.

Cold, wet and slimy.

I jerked my hand away.

As we went down, further and further, my mind was racing. Where could that wind have come from? Winds don't blow inside rooms, do they?

It was becoming so dark now, I had to feel my way. The walls were still cold and wet. But now they seemed to be moving.

In and out, in and out.

Like they were breathing!

Then I stopped suddenly. Charmaine stumbled into my back.

The steps had ended. I was facing something solid. I took a deep breath and touched it.


Another door, I prayed.

My fingers worked their way across its surface. At last they found a metallic shape. This time it wasn't a handle. It was a latch.

I lifted it and the door swung open.

A murky light fell across our faces. We both blinked after the darkness.

We stepped out onto the a stone floor. The cellar! Boxes and packing crates littered the room. All kinds of odd shapes were scattered about us.

A weak light was filtering down through a window high in the far wall. Strange shadows were everywhere.

Charmaine gasped, pointing.

I could see it, too. A round, human kind of thing. Just the chest and tummy of a person. With no arms. No legs.

I squinted. Then I laughed.

"A tailor's dummy!" I explained. "It must have been left here years ago. They used to make clothes on them in the old days."

Charmaine's lips were trembling. "I don't like this place..."

"Don't cry," I tried to cheer her up. "Kwan must be hiding down here somewhere. Do you want him to see you're frightened?"

Charmaine shook her head and snuffled. "I'm not fr-fr-frightened."

At that moment her eyes flew wide open.

Staring and scared.

She screamed.

Not once, but twice.

My blood turned icy.

I looked where she was looking.

A patch of white. Floating towards us. A white oval, coming out from behind a crate.

It was a face. Because it had eyes.

Charmaine clung to me, screaming and screaming.

"A dead man!"
It was the whitest face I've ever seen. White and pale and wrinkled like old paper. But the black eyes were burning like coals. And when the mouth opened to speak, it was toothless.

"I'm not dead, silly girl," hissed the face. "I'm Chang."

"Ch-ch-chang?" I stammered. I held Charmaine close. I hope she couldn't tell I was shaking all over.

The face was hideous, lop-sided, and its neck disappeared into a hunched body clad in black.

"I'm the caretaker," croaked the voice. "I'm in charge of this house."

"You mean, you - live here?" I blurted.

The face tilted back and the mouth dropped open. The black shape shook with a mad, high-pitched laugh.

"I have lived here for fifty years," the creature said.

"Please," said Charmaine in a tiny voice, "we want to go home."

"But you are home," said the ancient face. "You're going to stay here with me!"

I took a step back. My head was reeling. Who did this crazy old man think he was?

"You don't have the right to keep us here!" I challenged. I took a firm grip of Charmaine's shoulders and we turned back to the cellar door. "We're going home!"

The old man snapped his fingers. The door to the stairs slammed shut. He cackled with glee.

"We'll have to see about that!"

"Where's my brother?" demanded Charmaine, swallowing her fear.

"He's being well taken care of!" Chang half-walked, half-danced to an old chair covered with cobwebs. He sank down into it amidst a cloud of dust. "Just like you will be!"

Suddenly he closed his eyes and fell asleep.

Charmaine and I glanced at each other, then back to the horrible black thing sprawled in the filthy chair.

"He's crazy," I whispered to her. "He can't keep us here. We'll find Kwan and get out."

"B-b-but what if he won't let us escape?" she whispered back.

"Wait till he's fast asleep," I promised. "Anyhow, we're only ten minutes from home." Suddenly I began to feel brave, very brave. "When we don't come back, Mum and Dad will call the police. They'll search for us. And when they find our bikes outside-"

Chang jumped up from his chair. He gave another mad laugh.

"I forgot to tell you something!"

He took a torch from his pocket and shone it into the darkest corner of the room.

My shoulders slumped. My knees turned to jelly. Charmaine gave a sad whimper.

Our bicycles were all neatly stacked against the wall, with a big, thick chain around them.

Then I knew it.

We had no hope.

No hope at all.
I love the story! It's very good and suspenseful!
Thanks again, Trance. You are the first reader to have commented on this story of mine. :bsmile:

"I'm afraid you can't leave," Chang slumped back into the chair. He crossed his hands in his lap.

"But why?" I pleaded.

"Because nobody is allowed to leave," Chang giggled and nodded. "Not even me."

"We've done nothing to hurt you-"

"It's the Master's orders." That silly giggle again. "Master's orders!"

"What Master?" I demanded, looking around.

"The Master who owned this house. He doesn't want anyone spreading stories."

"Stories?" I echoed.

"The Master doesn't want people prying around." Chang had a faraway look in his eyes. "Before he died, he said to me, Chang, you must keep the people away."

"But he's your Master, not ours," I protested. "We don't have to take his orders!"

"In his house, you do!" He spat the words at us.

"Not fair!" Charmaine called angrily. "We don't want to stay in your silly old house!"

"Have to, have to," muttered Chang, closing his eyes again. He put the torch on the floor beside him.

"Where's Kwan?" I shouted.

"Huh?" Chang opened one eye sleepily.

"Our brother!" snapped Charmaine. "Where did you put him?!"

"Forgot, forgot..."

Soon the evil old man was curled up asleep, his lips parted as he snored.

Charmaine shook my arm. "What are we doing to do?" she wanted to know.

I shrugged. I tried to think. I tried to think what Mum and Dad would do. And the police. How would they find us? Maybe someone at the mall had seen us heading into the trees. Maybe the police would find our bike tracks. Maybe... maybe...

"We have to do something, Leng!" Charmaine pleaded.

The torch!

I put a finger to my lips. Bending down, I unlaced my sneakers. The stone floor was cold and damp against my bare feet. I watched Chang. He seemed to be sound asleep. I began creeping towards him. First one foot, then the next.


I froze.


He kept making those strange noises, deep in his throat. He shifted in the chair. Then he settled down again.

Holding my breath, I inched even closer, went down on one knee, stretched out my hand, my fingers closed around the torch.

Something moved beside me. A flash of grey.

It squeaked.

It was a rat.

And its shiny eyes were staring straight at me.
Wow.... I'd be scared to death if I were them...

Wow, Trancehchan is right! Its so suspenseful!

And your use of sentence length gives it a nice unique rhythm.

I like it~ especially Charmaine :P

lol Thanks, Trance and Sakura! I've never got so many replies for my stories before, let alone those that ACTUALLY talk about the content rather than sucking up to me. :P

Trance: Yeah, Chang is a pretty scary guy, but, you'll discover later on that he's just an old coot that wants people to leave him alone. Kinda like that old guy from Monster House.

Sakura: Thanks. I was constantly worried that my use of length would annoy people, due to them having to read a new paragraph every five seconds, but it's my feeling that it will help dramatize the story even more, so I keep such a format. :)

And yeah, Charmaine's pretty sweet. She will be even more resourceful later on. :D

I swallowed my scream.

The rat darted forward. Its whiskers twitched. It was headed straight for my fingers,


I leapt up, spinning around, losing my balance on the slippery stones. My hands waved frantically in the air. Charmaine caught me before I toppled over, but my fingers had released their grip on the torch.

I saw it falling.

Eeeeep! Eeeeeep!

It was the rat, charging across the stones like a grey flash of lightning. Rearing up on his hind legs. As the torch dropped neatly onto its front paws.


The rat scuttled to where Charmaine and I stood, transfixed. It gently placed the torch at my feet. Its shiny eyes blinked at me.

Charmaine nudged me.

"You-you should say thank you," she whispered.

I looked at her. Then at the rat.

I knelt down, feeling awfully stupid.

"Thank you," I mumbled.

The rat's whiskers twitched. It turned around, its head moving from side to side. It was looking for something. Scurrying across to one corner, where a lot of dust scattered near a heap of boxes, it got up on its hind legs again. It was - signaling to us!

Quietly, Charmaine and I followed. The rat stared at us for a moment. Then it reached out a paw into the dust. It started to scratch out a shape.

"A message." breathed Charmaine.

"Rats can't write-" I began.

Then I looked down. It was there, in front of my eyes. A single letter.


The rat stretched out its paw again. A chill went down my spine.


Charmaine caught her breath. She grabbed my elbow and shook it fiercely. I watched the rat write another letter.


We both knew what the last letter would be...


Charmaine was down on her knees.

"You know where Kwan is?" she asked the rat.


The rat glared at her. Its tail swished from side to side.

It sat back on its hind legs. It lifted one paw. It pointed at the lettering.

Then it tapped its chest.

My teeth started chattering.

"You mean... you're Kwan?" I stuttered.

The rat nodded.

Charmaine gave a little scream and fainted.
I carried Charmaine to a box, my arms shaking the whole time. I set her down and turned back to the rat.

No! It wasn't possible! Kwan couldn't be a rat! I felt scared! I felt numb!

I felt sick!

I squeezed my eyes shut, hoping it would all go away. But it didn't. I was still trapped in the cellar. Chang was still that hideous old man in black, curled up asleep in his chair. Charmaine was still sobbing on the box. And worse of all...

My brother, Kwan, was still a grey rat, staring up at me, from where his name was scratched in the dust.

It was all my fault! If only we'd gone home the usual way. If only we hadn't gone inside this terrible house...

I held onto the slimy walls for support. There had to be an answer to all this. There had to be a way out. A way back to our home. A way to make Kwan a human again.


Kwan was trying to get my attention. He had scurried across to the torch. He ran round and round it in circles.

Yes, of course! He wants me to take it before Chang wakes up!

I slipped it into my pocket. Then, I put on my sneakers. My feet had grown cold, but not as cold as the feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach.

Kwan was on the move again. He raced over to a shadowy corner and back again. Eeeeeeep! Eeeeep! He sounded impatient. Again he raced away and back to us.

I took Charmaine by the shoulders and whispered, "He wants us to follow him..."

She nodded numbly.

Kwan was waiting for us on the edge of the shadows. He pointed with a paw. I searched the darkness.

A door!

He jumped up, scratching at it.

"He must know the way out," I hoped.

I turned the rusty handle. We stepped through into pitch darkness. I fumbled for the torch and flicked it on. The beam of light picked out a narrow corridor.

Kwan was scuttling ahead.

To yet another door!

This one opened easily, too, and we were in a small, empty room. The air was thick with mustiness. I tried not to cough. Charmaine clutched my hand. Kwan was squeaking from across the gloom. I pointed the torch. A door, sure enough, but this time, a thick board was nailed across it.

I handed Charmaine the torch. Using all my strength, I pulled on the board. It wouldn't give. The nails held fast.

Now what?

I put my foot against the door and grasped the board again. I tugged on it, harder, harder. It seemed to shift. Another deep breath. Then I hauled on it, grunting. I heard a groaning sound. I pulled even harder. Something snapped. The board came loose and I staggered back. My heart was pounding. I grinned at Charmaine.


We were going to escape! Except...

The door was locked on the other side!
Kwan parked himself by the door, his nose twitching and his tail swishing. Before I could say anything, Charmaine swung into action. She knelt at the key hole and shone the torch through it.

"Easy!" she said, and reached into her back pocket.

She pulled out a piece of paper, unfolding it carefully. It was that stupid photo of Joe from the Jonas Brothers that she carried everywhere. Kissing it, she slipped it under the door. Then she plucked a hairpin from her hair and started jiggling the key through the lock.

"Don't be silly! That trick only works in movies!" I scoffed. I started laughing. Kwan the rat was twittering, too.


Charmaine carefully pulled the piece of paper back to our side of the door. There, sitting across Joe's face, was a key. Right at that moment, I hate to admit it, but - well, Joe didn't look at that bad!

"I knew he would save me one day," Charmaine beamed proudly, returning the picture to her pocket.

She turned the key in the lock. The door swung open. Beyond it, stairs led up, out of the cellar.

"Good work, Charmaine," I hugged her. I looked down at Kwan. "Okay, you rat, let's get out of here!"


Kwan bounded up the stairs, leaving us to follow. The air began to smell fresher with every step. But I'd learned my lesson. We still weren't out of danger yet. I just prayed that Chang wouldn't check us again!

The stairs seemed to go on forever, higher and higher. I hoped they would take us all the way to the roof. Then we could signal for someone to help us. Or we could climb down a drainpipe. Anything would be better than being inside this crazy house!


Charmaine screamed. I jerked to a stop. The hairs on the back of my neck were tingling. It was Chang's voice. But where was he?


His voice boomed all around us in the gloom. Then, he made a frenzied cackling sound. Even the stairs were vibrating.

"Go away! Leave us alone!" shouted Charmaine.

"Oh, I can't do that. The Master has put me in charge!"

"He's mad," I whispered.

"Am I?" asked the hideous voice. His cackling laugh was even louder, even more terrifying. I fell back against the wall and froze.

The wall was alive again. Pulsating. Breathing.

It wasn't just Chang we were up against.

It was the whole horrible house!
Charmaine clung close to me.

"How does he know where we are?" Her voice was hollow, really frightened.

"It's the house," I said. "The house must-must tell him somehow."

"That's silly." Charmaine shook her head. "Houses can't talk - or think!"

"This one can!" laughed Chang. His mad, evil voice surrounded us on all sides.

I guided Charmaine's hand to the wall. As soon as she touched it, she shrieked.

"It's b-b-breathing!"

"This house is alive! It will never die!" Chang chortled. "They wanted to pull it down years ago! But I won't let them!"

I signalled for Charmaine to be quiet. I'd had one of my ideas!

"My Chang," I began, very sweetly, "don't you think this house needs - friends?"

"Friends?" he barked. "Explain, boy!"

"Well..." I bit my lip, thinking of what to say next. "Instead of, well, scaring people, what if it made friends with people? And the people could help it?"

"Bah!" grunted the unseen Chang.

"Listen to me," I begged. "This was a beautiful house years ago, right? Don't you want it to be beautiful again?"

"What do you care, boy?" he demanded.

"Well, if you let us go, we could help you clean it up, paint it, do the garden-"

"Headache, pain!" shouted Chang. "All this chatter! Giving me a headache!"

"But think about it, sir," I suggested.

"No, no, no, no!" he screamed. The walls trembled. "You have this house!" he accused.

"I don't!"

"You do!"

"I don't!"

"You DO, DO, DO!"

"He's a fruit cake!" I whispered to Charmaine.

"You're a bad, wicked, nasty boy!" Chang's voice crashed around us. "You must be punished! This is the House of a Thousand Doors! You are going to suffer DEATH BY DOORS!"

"I told you," I whispered. "A fruit cake with one sultana too many!"

His mad laughter was uncontrollable. Charmaine had her hands over her ears. Just as well. She didn't hear him say what Death by Doors was...

It sounded insane! It sounded like the work of a madman! But I believed every word of it! Every single word!

"DEATH BY DOORS..." Chang cackled. "Every time you open a door, there's another door, and another, and another. No matter which way you run, there are doors, doors, doors! So you can never find your way back to where you started. And you can never, ever find your way out...!"
I clenched my fists. I was furious. At Chang, at the house, but most of, at myself. Leng, you've been stupid, stupid, stupid, I told myself. Mum and Dad will never forgive you! They'll never trust you again!

What am I talking about? They'll never see you again!

I grabbed Charmaine's hand. I started to run. We turned a corner and there was a door. I banged straight into it. I found the handle, threw the door open and kept running.

Straight into the next door.

This one didn't have a handle. I fumbled with an old-fashioned latch. The door creaked open. We dashed through. We ran a few paces-

Another door!

"Leng, let's go the other way!" cried Charmaine.

We spun around, heading back, but our way was barred by a different door. It was made of steel. I pounded my fists on it.

Something brushed against my foot.


It was Kwan... Well, it was a rat... I prayed it was the right rat... I fell to my knees. The torchlight was flickering, the battery was almost finished.

Eeeeeep, eeeeeep!

What was Kwan trying to tell us? His eyes were glittering, his tail waved angrily. I put out my hands. I couldn't stop them from shaking. I was terrified. I'd never touched a rat before. And even if this rat was my little brother, I thought I was going to be sick...

Kwan was getting a real kick out of this! He scuttled over to my fingers and r-r-rubbed against them. All I could think was, I hope this rat is Kwan and not a stranger. Yuk! His fur was grey and glossy. And warm. And it bristled like a brush, tickling me. His claws scratched gently against my skin. Yuk, yuk, yuk! Then he clambered into my hand and curled up into a ball. Erk

Charmaine's eyes were wide with horror.

"Poor Kwan..." she whimpered.

She reached over and patted him.


We started to talk. Our poor family, Charmaine and me, and my ratty brother. We must have gone through another six doors when it happened...

The whole house began to rock and sway. The walls were actually hissing at us. Like a thousand invisible snakes.

And Chang's voice was like thunder.

"Stop! Stop! You bad, evil children! What have you done with your brother? I had him locked up in a secret room and he's GONE!"

I yelled, as loudly as I could:

"See, Mr Chang, you're not as smart as you think you are!"

"WRONG!" he screeched. "I'm smarter than you think I think I am!" he bellowed. "Now you are really going to wish that you'd never been born..."

And the floor opened up and we were falling...


One minute there had been solid wood beneath our feet. The next, nothing. We dropped like stones. Kwan dug his claws into my tee-shirt. I yelled with pain. Charmaine was yelling, too. We seemed to fall forever, but only for a few seconds, really, until we tumbled headlong onto a slimy, lumpy thing that curled up around us.

I was choking on dust, gasping for breath. Whenever I moved, the slimy thing underneath me moved, too. It stank. A wet, greasy kind of stink.

My eyes popped open.

We had landed on a stack of filthy old mattresses. But worse than that...

The damp mattresses were piled up inside a cage.

Big, thick black bars imprisoned us, all the way up to the roof which was sliding shut over our heads. And even worse than that...

We were back in that foul cellar, back at the mercy of Chang, who was going to make us wish that we'd never been born!

We were caught, like rats in a trap.


That reminded me, where was Kwan? I fumbled around on the sticky mattress. He was all scrunched up in a ball. I touched his fur. His heart was pounding furiously. He must have been even scared than I was!

Someone pinched my arm. I rolled over. It was Charmaine. She was pointing.

No wonder!

Chang was lurching across the cellar, waving his bony fist at us, evil triumph written all over his face.

"Now we shall see who is the smartest!" he gloated.

Quickly, I scooped Kwan under my shirt. He tickled my tummy. I forced myself not to laugh.

"Wipe that grin off your face, boy!" Chang commanded.

Kwan's fur bristled against my bare skin. He seemed to be digging a hole in my belly button. I held my breath so I wouldn't giggle.

"Yes, sir," I mumbled.

"You're going to stay in there until I find your brother!" shrieked Chang. "And when I do," he panted, "then you will pay for all the trouble you've caused me!"

He vanished into the shadows. A door slammed behind him. We were alone. Just the two of us. And Kwan, of course.

I lifted my shirt and he darted out.

"We're stuck in this cage!" I explained to him.

"You've got to get us out," begged Charmaine. "You're our only hope!"

Kwan's little eyes were twinkling.

Eeeeeep! Eeeeeeep!

Had he understood us? Could he help us? We had no way of knowing. We watched numbly as he scampered over the mattress. Suddenly, he stopped, running back to run himself against Charmaine's knee.

"Please be careful, Kwan," she patted him.


Then, he was off, tail swishing, diving through the bars and vanishing across the cellar floor. I put my arm around Charmaine. She nestled close. The air had grown colder. Damper, too. We started to shiver. Was Chang going to let us freeze to death? I wondered.

Then we fell asleep.

A terrifying sleep, with Chang's face floating in and out of my mind, and thousands of doors opening and closing, opening and closing...


I leapt up. Charmaine wriggled sleepily beside me.

Something had woken me. Something was moving in the shadows.

Eeeeeeep! Eeeeeep!

It was Kwan skittering over the stones. Had he found a way to save us?

Charmaine moaned. A horrible, despairing sound. Then, I saw why.

"Oh no!" I groaned. I could have cried...

Poor Kwan! He must have thought we were hungry.

Because, in his mouth, he was carrying a big chunk of bright, yellow cheese!
That cheese must have been heavy!

Kwan was struggling with it as he squeezed through the bars. He clawed his way up the mattress, his sharp little teeth digging into the cheese for dear life. Proudly, he dropped it at my feet. He was panting from all the effort.


I didn't have the heart to be angry with him. It wasn't his fault he was a rat.

Kwan looked at me, then at Charmaine. We must have seemed very ungrateful.

"Kwan," I began, "it was nice of you to bring us food, but what we really wanted-"

He nipped my sneaker angrily. He was up on his hind legs, pointing at both of us, then at the cheese.


"I I think he really wants us to eat it," said Charmaine fearfully. "Yuk..."

Kwan nosed the cheese towards me. He kept pointing at it. Then he pointed at himself.

"What's he trying to tell us?" I wondered aloud.


"Maybe..." Charmaine swallowed, a hard, choking sound, "maybe we have to eat it if we're going to escape!"

"Rubbish!" I laughed.

Eeeeeeeep! the little rat insisted.

Without warning, he nipped my finger.


"Leng..." Charmaine picked up the cheese and held it towards me, "I think you'd better take a bite..."

I glared at the bright yellow goo. It stank. I could see the little ratty tooth marks in it. I thought I was going to puke.

I closed my eyes. I opened my mouth. I took a bite. My stomach was churning.


My mouth was filled with a revolting taste. My nose tingled. I tried to swallow. I was gagging on the foul lump in my mouth. Whatever it was, it wasn't cheese!

I squeezed my nose. I forced the hideous thing down my throat. A hot spasm of pain exploded through my body.

I opened my mouth. I tried to talk. Charmaine was staring at me, eyes wide with horror.

"Eeeeeep, eeep," I said.

She grabbed the rest of the cheese and shoved it into her mouth. Immediately, her face turned grey.

And she seemed to get bigger.

And bigger.

"Eeeeeep!" I screamed.

She wasn't getting bigger and bigger.

I was getting smaller and smaller.

When I looked at my hands, they weren't there anymore. Just claws, covered with grey hair. Same with my legs. They shrank. And ended in sharp claws, too.

My clothes had vanished. Something was growing out of the bottom of my back.

When I looked at Charmaine again, she wasn't there.

"Here I am, Leng!" her voice said behind me.

I turned around and tripped over my tail.

There was no sign of her. Just this grey rat!

Wrong! Two grey rats!

"Hello, Leng," said one of them.

It sounded like Kwan, but-

"Always thought you were a bit of a rat!" the other rat giggled.

"What h-h-happened?" I demanded.

"You ate the cheese!" Kwan said, his whiskers twitching. "That's what I did when Chang locked me up!"

"But we're RATS!" I screamed.

"Don't you see?" said the Charmaine rat. "Now that we're all rats, we can escape!"

"Chang will never find us!" said the Kwan rat.

"But neither will Mum and Dad!" I argued. "How can we tell them who we are? We'll just sound like squeaking rats to them!"

"At least we'll get out of this house," Charmaine reminded me. "Once we're free, we can see a doctor or something."

"Oh no!" I groaned. "How? Rats can't go and see doctors!"

Suddenly, my ears were standing. They'd hear something. Footsteps.

It must be Chang coming back!

"Quick!" said Kwan. "I know the way out!" We leapt from the mattresses onto the floor, scurrying towards a hole in the wall.

I can't fit through that, I thought.

Oh yes, I can! I'm a rat now!

I hunched my back, pointed my head forward, and dived nose first into a smelly drain.
I was running along a slimy tunnel. Except when you're a rat, slime doesn't feel like slime. It feels nice and soft and gooey, and your paws don't get so tired.

Kwan led the way. He splashed through the water, sniffing the air. Charmaine was right behind him.

"Move over," he warned.

Suddenly, there was a huge rat coming the other way. Yuk, it was ghastly, with fat legs and glittering eyes. It squeezed past me, grunting, and sprayed me with muddy water.

It was just like those ruder drivers. Dad calls them road hogs.

"Drain hogs!" I yelled.

"Shhhh!" cried Charmaine. "We don't want the house to know we're down here."

"But we sound like rats now," I giggled. "We can make as much noise as can like."

So much for Chang and his Death by Doors, I thought. The last place he'd expect to find us now would be down in the drains, right under his feet.

Little did I know how wrong I was!

There was a bend in the tunnel. Up ahead, I could hear a roaring sound. Like a waterfall.

It got louder and louder. Deafening.

Suddenly, our tunnel opened out into a wide cavity, more like a cave when you're a rat. There was water gushing everywhere. We huddled together, staring across the frothing, surging mass of water. Six drains all emptied out into one bigger drain.

"Now what?" I asked Kwan.

"We have to swim across to that ledge." He jabbed a paw towards the dry rock on the other side.

"Swim?" Charmaine shivered.

"But we're rats!" I protested, waving my tail. "We aren't humans any more! We can't swim."

"Yes, we can!" Kwan laughed and plunged into the water.

His front paws splashed up and down, and his back legs kicked furiously. It looked a bit like dogpaddling. Ratpaddling, I guess we'd call it.

Charmaine and I jumped in. We soon got the hang of it. The current was very strong. I kicked my back legs really hard. Once or twice, they got tangled in my tail. I needed more practice.

A minute or two later, we were safely across. We shook the water from our fur and huddled together on the ledge.

Kwan was looking very pleaded with himself.

"I told you I knew the way out," he boasted.

"Well, don't speak too soon," Charmaine warned him. "I won't feel safe until we're outside!"

Kwan led the way to another drain. It looked dry. He flattened himself out and squeezed into it. We all did the same.

It was a very narrow drain, twisting and turning, and I prayed we wouldn't meet a rat coming the other way. At least it got wider. Then wider.

Uh oh!

As my paws touched the ground, it started to move. Up and down, in and out.

Like it was breathing.

It was the house again.

And it was alive.

And it knew exactly where we were.
My rat hairs were standing on end. I was terrified. The others had sensed danger, too. We just crouched in the drain, not even daring to move.

Then, all around us, was that mad cackling laughter.

"So," said Chang's evil voice, "you discovered the secret cheese! Very clever, my little rats! But it has done you no good, little ones, because now you will never escape! Have you ever heard of DEATH BY DRAINS?"

We froze. Chang's laughter mocked us, echoing around the drains like mad thunder.

"DEATH BY DRAINS is when one drain leads to another and another. And you scamper round and round in circles in the dark, but you can never find your way back to where you started. And you will never, ever find your way out!"

We could hear clanking sounds above us.

"I have filled a hundred buckets with water. And I'm going to start pouring them down every pipe in the house." Chang's voice rose to a shrieking wail. "So, farewell, my dear sweet rats. Enjoy your little bath!"

There were more clanking sounds. And more.

For a minute, nothing happened. Then, there was this rushing, gurgling noise. It was coming towards us.

The water hit us like a tidal wave, knocking the breath from our bodies. A wall of water, crashing down the drain, picking us up, twisting us around and around. We were spluttering for air. We were going to drown like rats. We were going to drown in the dark. There was water everywhere, tumbling us over and over, hurling our bodies against the sides of the drain, until my lungs were about to burst.

All three of us hurtled out of the drain, heads first into a big pond of water. Only this time, we couldn't swim. We were too exhausted. We felt ourselves sinking into the surging, sludgy water, deeper and deeper, swept along in the tide. We hung onto each other's tails so we wouldn't be separated. We floated to the surface, gasping for air. The current was so strong we couldn't fight against it. We just kept choking and spluttering, as the roaring water carried us from one big drain into another.

So this was Death by Drains! I'd be glad when it was over!


We were stuck against something. The water rushed past us, but we couldn't move. We were wedged against a metal grille, a drain cover, with big holes to let the water through.

Our claws gripped the metal bars. We began to climb, higher and higher. The bars were very slippery, but at least we were out of the water, hanging on for dear lift, trying to catch our breaths.

I looked down, trembling. The water level was rising. Fast. A few minutes and it would cover our heads completely. And then we would surely drown.

We were trapped. There was nowhere to run. We clung on as the water rose higher and higher, up over our tails, up our backs, around our shoulders.

And then I saw it. A round black hole. A way to escape.

The only question was, could the three of us reach it in time?
If I could move along sideways, hand over hand, I could reach it easily. But I wasn't a human any more. I was a rat. And I didn't know if a rat body could work that way.

It was worth a try.

"Follow me!" I shouted to the others.

I reached out a paw, wrapped my claws around the bar, and hauled myself along. A rat's body is very heavy when you're hanging by your front legs. I tried again, stretching rat legs as far as they'd go. Inch by inch, the hole was getting closer.

Kwan and Charmaine were swinging themselves along behind me. The waters had reached up under our front legs.

A wave of water splashed over my head. I was right beside the hole. I reached out one paw, then the next. I had a grip on the sides of the hole. I dragged myself up, until my head was inside the hole. It stink in there, but it was dry.

I heaved harder. My little round body was dangling in thin air. One slip and I'd drop back under the water and drown.

I took a big breath and hauled myself higher. Now my back legs were in the hole, too. Just my tail was hanging out. I left it there. The next rat could use it like a rope.

As soon as I felt something tugging on it, I moved deeper into the tunnel. I was grunting and groaning. Whoever had a grip on my tail weighed a ton.

I thought my tail would snap off!

Then, almost at once, the pressure was off. Another rat squeezed up beside me. It was Charmaine, soaking wet.

"Thanks, Leng," she gasped. "You saved my life. But Kwan will need your help now!"

I backed up again, letting my tail dangle out. This time, I screamed with pain as Kwan grabbed hold of it. It felt like someone had tied a brick to it. I didn't know if rats could sweat, but I sure did. Whew! I stared edging forward to pull him up, but he was so heavy he was dragging me backwards. I dug my claws into the sides of the drain. My heart was pumping like mad. I began moving forward, clutching the sides for support. Once, my claws missed their grip, and my whole body slid backwards again.

I could hear Kwan's terrified shouts behind me. He started to climb up my tail. It was agony. Slowly, steadily, I crawled forward again, feeling Kwan's full weight shifting behind me.

And then it was over.

Kwan scrambled up beside me. He was breathless.

"Let's get going," I urged him. "That water will start filling up this tunnel any minute."

I raced forward, my tail burning with pain. I could hear Charmaine and Kwan scuttling behind me.

CRASH! I ran straight into a chunk of concrete.

No wonder this tunnel was dry. It had been blocked. I searched for another escape. My nose was twitching, just like a rat's nose. It was a rat's nose, I reminded myself.

I could sniff a little breeze of fresh air. It had to be coming from somewhere.

Yes! Over there! A narrow crack in the wall. I squashed my body down as flat as it would go, and bolted into the narrow gap. The fresh air grew stronger and colder.

Suddenly, I was through. The others staggered out of the crack, their wet fur streaked with dust. Where were we? I tried to get my bearing.

A wooden floor. Mess everywhere. Broken furniture. Old chairs.

We were crouched side by side, staring around the room, when something smacked down over our heads.


It was a net. I could get my claws through it, but not my body. Tough strands of rope cut into my skin. I struggled against them.

It was hopeless. The others were squeaking and squealing, too, but there was no way out.

I looked up, and saw Chang. His mouth was curling up.

Into a hideous toothless grin.

And in one hand he held a glass of milk!
"So," he cackled mirthlessly, "you thought you could change the rules and become rats!" He threw back his head and laughed. It was a spine-chilling sound. "Well, so can I. You ate the secret cheese. So I am going to drink the secret milk!"

He lifted the glass to his twisted lips and drank, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down in his scrawny neck. He hurled the glass against the wall, and it shattered into a thousand pieces.

Before we knew what was happening, he was doubled over, clutching his stomach.


His white face was contorted with pain, and his body started to shrink. His eyes turned green. His cloak fell away. His entire body was covered with fur. Black fur. His head got smaller. His ears became pointed. He was down on the floor, on his arms and legs, only now they were black, too. A black tail sprouted from behind him. It was waving slowly from side to side. His nose vanished. Whiskers shot out from his cheeks.


He wasn't Chang any more.

He was a black cat.

Sleek and mean and evil.

Pacing and prowling.

Licking his lips.

He swiped a paw at the net. His yellow claws stretched out, their sharp points glinting like knives.

How I wished we had drowned. It would have been quicker and cleaner.

Now we would be torn limb from limb.

And eaten alive.

We were going to end up in Chang's cat belly, and nobody would ever know what happened to us.

The claws slashed at us again. They missed my head by inches.

We raced from one corner of the net to the other. The cat hissed.

It pounced.

Its claws were like razors.

They swished down.

Our whole world went black.