Authors: Anthony Masters
To the staff and pupils of Eastbrook
Comprehensive School, Dagenham, Essex,
with affectionate memories of their outstanding
“I'm not going in there,” said David firmly.
“We'll have to,” replied his sister, Jenny, looking up at the gaunt hulk of the derelict Roxy. The cinema had been closed for years, but the boarded-up doorway had been broken down and homeless people had started to sleep in the auditorium. The twins stood in the rain, gazing into the musty darkness, wondering if Sid was inside.
David and Jenny always nodded to the old tramp who pushed a supermarket trolley loaded with personal possessions around the streets of Hockley, and he usually muttered something back. Once he had told them his name was Sid and he was on a “mission”, and after that the twins had not been so keen to talk to him.
But over the last few weeks David and Jenny had been particularly concerned for Sid. Every time they saw him he was wheezing and shivering badly, and the twins were sure he was ill. They had reported his condition to the warden of a day centre for the homeless on the next street, and although he had recognised Sid from their
description, he had told them that he was “a law unto himself and wouldn't take âcharity' ”.
“Suppose he's dying?” said Jenny.
David looked worried. “If in doubt, ask a policeman.”
“There isn't one.”
“Then we'll have to find one,” he snapped.
Eventually the twins tracked down a policeman on foot patrol a couple of streets away and explained the situation, wondering if he would be sympathetic.
“We'll take a look,” he said calmly.
He was large and seemed solid and reassuring. They felt comfortable with him immediately.
“Can you identify the old boy?” the policeman asked as they walked back to the Roxy together. “I'm new to this beat so I won't know him.”
“You bet,” replied David and then paused, looking uneasily at the broken doorway. “So you want us to go in there with you?” he added reluctantly.
The policeman produced a strong torch. “You'll have to, I'm afraid. But keep close by me.”
The beam flashed across the flaking plasterwork of what had once been an impressive foyer. A few old posters clung to the walls, an ornate box office was still in place and over it, picked out in now blackened gold leaf, was the sign THE ROXY â HOCKLEY'S HOLLYWOOD.
“Shame,” muttered the policeman. “It must have been a wonderful place years ago.”
The twins agreed as they walked over the remnants of carpet and through an open gap where the auditorium doors had once been.
A terrible stench of decay filled their nostrils. Then Jenny screamed.
“What's up, love?” asked the policeman.
“I saw a rat. Scampering down there somewhere.”
“There'll be dozens in here â place's probably infested with 'em.” The policeman flashed his strong beam around again, illuminating a scene of ruined grandeur.
There were no seats now but rubbish ankle deep littered the floor. The tattered screen stood on a huge stage with a hole in the middle of it and the walls were painted with a fading mural of a Spanish town. Winding streets led down to a tiny harbour with fishing boats on a deep-blue ocean, and behind them blazed the reddish orange of a Mediterranean sunset. The ceiling was even more exotic, with stars and planets circling a huge, pockmarked moon.
“What a place to sleep!” David whispered. “Only thing is, there doesn't seem to be anyone here right now.”
“Maybe they did a bunk when they heard us coming in,” said Jenny.
The door under the broken EXIT sign was swinging open and there was plenty of evidence of the Roxy's squatters on the floor â filthy blankets and pillows, discarded packets, cans and bottles and piles of old newspapers.
“The owners ought to secure this place,” said the policeman. “If a fire started, it would be a death trap.”
“Isn't that someone?” said David. “By the wall, under a blanket.”
The policeman began to walk purposefully over the debris.
“You can hear him breathing,” said Jenny, and she and David exchanged anxious glances.
As the twins followed the beam, they could distinctly hear harsh wheezing and then a stentorian snore. A rat ran out of an upturned cardboard box, and although Jenny and David tried to steel themselves against its dark, scurrying presence, they noticed even their reassuring policeman was wincing.
The heap of stinking blankets showed no sign of moving.
Jenny saw the overloaded supermarket trolley against the stage. “It's him,” she said. “It's Sid.”
“Excuse me!” The policeman's voice was louder.
The wheezing stopped and slowly, very slowly,
the old tramp sat up. In the glare of the torch, what little of his face they could see behind his beard was milky white and feverish-looking.
“What do you want?” he snarled.
“You don't sound too good,” said the policeman kindly.
“I'm all right.”
“You're sick,” said Jenny.
“It's them two kids.” Sid looked confused.
“Yes,” said David. “We're worried about you.”
“You got the sight, haven't you?” said Sid unexpectedly.
“What?” Jenny was startled by the old man's casual remark.
did you say?” David demanded.
But Sid clammed up immediately. “You leave me alone, you lot.” There was a whine in the wheeze. “I'm not doing anyone any harm.”
“Except yourself,” said the policeman.
Jenny sensed a flickering movement just above her, and when she darted a glance at the cinema screen she thought she could see dim shadows moving on it.
At first, Jenny put the movement down to a trick of the light, but then she stood still, staring up intently, and her initial amazement was quickly followed by a slow, creeping fear.
Two children were running blindly down a tunnel. They looked innocent and frightened, and
Jenny felt for them at once. The same dim images repeated themselves, fading more and more on each replay, until the screen went blank. The projection could only have lasted a few blurred seconds â the images had gone by so fast that Jenny wondered if she had really seen them at all. But when she glanced across at her brother, she knew that he had noticed them too and was tensely watching her, needing a reaction. “You've got the sight, haven't you?” The old tramp's words hammered in her mind. Well, they had, hadn't they? Over the last year they had twice been visited by ghostly figures from the past, but they'd never really got used to them; in fact, each visitation seemed more terrifying than the last.
“I'm going to call an ambulance,” said the policeman, who appeared to have seen nothing unusual. He got out his radio phone.
“You're not,” said Sid, but his eyes were on Jenny, urgently sending out the message:
Did you see? Did you see what I saw?
“No arguing,” replied the policeman. “If it hadn't been for these two, you would have got worse. Died maybe.”
Sid looked back at him in sudden concern. “I can't die,” he said. “Not until I've completed my mission. My mission's important.”
“I'm sure it is,” said the policeman drily. “A few days in hospital should really set you up.”
“What did you see?” asked Jenny on their way home. The ambulance had taken Sid away and the policeman had thanked them with considerable respect.
“Couple of young kids running down a tunnel,” said David.
“Yes. And I thought I saw lines.”
“Tube,” she said. “Too narrow for the railway.”
“You can't run on those,” said David dismissively. “You'd be electrocuted.”
“They could have been running by the side of the lines, in a tube tunnel.”
“Yes, I suppose they could.” There was a long pause and then David said slowly, “What did Sid mean â that we have the sight?”
, haven't we?” replied Jenny uneasily. “We can see things other people can't. I mean, I don't think that policeman saw a thing.”
“We'll have to go and visit Sid tomorrow in hospital. Find out what he's on about. Do you think he's got the sight too?”
“Either that,” said Jenny hesitantly, “or Mum and Dad are right when they say he's crazy.”
“Are you relatives?” asked the nurse doubtfully.
“Friends,” said David. He hoped there wasn't going to be any trouble about visiting Sid; the receptionist on the enquiries desk at Hockley General had been so helpful. Time had dragged by at home and during school, and neither of the twins had slept well. Their curiosity about Sid and what he might tell them, and the disturbing, flickering images on the screen of the Roxy, had made both of them feel very afraid.
“Are you the two who discovered him?”
“Yes,” said Jenny.
“Then I'm sure you can see the old gentleman.” The nurse was suddenly smiling and co-operative. Good deeds pay off, thought David.
Sid seemed much smaller and more wizened as he lay in the high-sided bed which was designed to stop patients from falling out. David was shocked by the old man's vulnerability. He, had been shaved, washed, dressed in pyjamas and attached to a drip. There seemed to be wires everywhere, but Sid was conscious and his beady eyes fixed on the
twins directly they arrived, not exactly in welcome but with an urgent wariness. As the nurse went away, she said that Sid was “comfortable”. This didn't tell them much, but surely must at least mean that he was not going to die.
Once the nurse was down at the other end of the ward, Sid beckoned David and Jenny over to him with a quivering forefinger. “Well?”
“Well what?” countered Jenny.
“You seen 'em â up on the screen. Them kids?”
“Yes,” said David. “We saw them.”
“What was they doing then?” wheezed Sid, looking at them scornfully as if he were giving them an IQ test.
“Running through a tunnel,” said Jenny. “We thought it was a tube tunnel.”
Sid nodded triumphantly.
all this?” asked David, his curiosity reaching fever pitch.
“I see a bit more each day,” muttered the old man, not answering the question.
“Who are they?” asked Jenny, trying another tack.