Grey Hallway to Freedom

A girl, Nikki, aged 17 has spent her entire life inside an orphanage. She's most known inside the orphanage for her retelling of the story Rapunzel, which will inevitably assist her on her journey in life. After a strange encounter with a mystery man she may become tempted with adventure. Throughout her journey she talks to you, a new kid on the estate. This is a tale of heartbreak, adventure and most importantly hope.

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1. Meeting Nikki

The world is dark, and selfish, and cruel. If it finds even the slightest ray of sunshine, it destroys it!

When you do the same thing every day for the entirety of your life, living often becomes boring. When you live in a world where nothing ever changes and all things stay the same, you lose a sense of adventure. When everyone you know speaks, acts and exists the same, they all blur to one archetype. Some nights you stay up late, which here is 9pm, and you wonder what life is like anywhere else. You wonder if there is anywhere else. Or if all there is for the rest of eternity is this routine, this constant repeat of the same activities, the same places, the same people. Trust me, I’ve lived here for as long as I can remember. I’ve heard the story hundreds of times, becoming number to it at each hearing. How many times can they expect me to listen to the same dull story of being dropped at the doorstep, without me questioning it? Every day they tell me they have no recollection of who my parents are, they claim that my mother nor my father ever entered the estate. They tell me this so I don’t go looking. It’s what they tell us all. To keep us here, in this place. They want to keep us all here, in this place that never changes. You, me, and all of the other kids stuck here for the rest of their days. There has been a few kids who’ve gotten out of here, I haven’t spoken to them since. Some were picked up by adults, a woman and a man, always the exact same people. Some ran away, not that the carers told us that. The carers said there’d been an “early pick up.” You know, out of all the people here, I feel sorriest for the babies. For the kids, who just like me, will grow up knowing nothing other than these grey walls lacking windows.  Some of us older kids read to the younger kids, we all have our own story book. I don’t read them a book though, I tell them a story. It was in a movie I got to see once, there was a big storm so the carers put a movie on for us. I was ten at the time. Anyway, I tell them this story about a girl, her name’s Rapunzel. And about an incredible journey she takes with a boy she met, named Flynn. They’re always entranced when they hear the story of the lost princess and the floating light. When you live in a place like this, stories like that become important. They give everyone who hears them a false sense of hope. As if maybe, one day, we could go on an adventure, we could become a princess or a prince, and meet someone who’s going to make us better. For me though, when I first watched it, I was so hopeful I could get out of this place. It’s been seven years, I’m still here. I like telling the story to the children, we all sit in a circle, and they all watch me as I tell them this magical tale. They smile. Not fake smiles the way they do to please the carers. For just the smallest moment of each day, while they hear a story about adventure, love and hope, those children smile such genuine smiles. Next time we do a story telling session, you should come along. I’m sure you’d love it. We always take the new kids to storytelling. Although, once, we took a new guy, I can’t remember his name, or his face, or his voice, the only thing I can remember about him is how he told the carers. The next morning there was a knock on our door and the head lady came storming in. Raving at us about how we were “ruining the children’s sense of morale and behaviour.” She was planning on taking those stories away from those kids, so I stood. And I said no. The first kid here to ever say no to the head lady. Well, as you can imagine I had whippings for days. I was only allowed one meal a day. And after my punishment ended, I returned to my room. And each day I’d go to the children’s room and I’d tell them the magical story. And each day the head lady would turn to me and threaten me, she’d tell me, “If I hear you telling those children stories once more you will be staying in the cabin.” Of course I was scared, wouldn’t you be? The cabin isn’t a nice place. It’s got the same grey walls without windows. A hard floor. A metal toilet. And a bed frame. There was a blanket. I was scared of getting locked in the cabin, but those kids needed to hear stories. So I went into their room again and I told them the story. I don’t know exactly how much time I spent in the cabin, when I came out I could hardly walk. I hadn’t eaten proper food in what seemed like weeks. I was so skinny. I needed help to change clothes and all of those other daily things. But, my first night back in the main house, I managed to get to the children’s room, I sat on the floor with them. One little girl came and placed her hand on my face, she asked if I was going to be okay. I didn’t reply, I just started telling them the story. I watched as their faces, filled with sadness, turned to smiles of joy. Not wanting to scare the children the head lady came and dragged me out of my room after I’d returned. When I say dragged, I mean that literally. One of the carers had my arms, another my legs. And they dragged me down the hall to the head lady’s office. I don’t understand why they dragged me, I mustn’t have been any heavier than a sack of potatoes, and a small sack at that. The head lady started yelling at me, she walked to her torture cupboard and picked out a whip. She walked back to me, frail little me who could hardly walk alone, and raised the whip. I started laughing. Making her only more mad. I used her desk to help myself from the floor and bent over, “The world is dark, and selfish, and cruel. If it finds even the slightest ray of sunshine, it destroys it.” I felt nothing, not because I’d become numb to the punishments of the head lady, but because she was not punishing me. She’d put her whip away and sat down at her desk. By quoting the story I told the children each night, the head lady had finally given in. So now, our story telling sessions are no longer illegitimate. More of the older kids have decided to come along to storytelling as they’re no longer fearful of punishment.

You were rather weird, you sat there and listened the entire time. Granted, it was bed time, you had nothing better to do. But still, to listen to a story for that long, from someone you’d never met before, without saying even one word. Well, it isn’t normal, that’s for sure.

All of the kids in the home were awake by the time I woke up. They were all sitting at the dining table, you were there too. The kids on duty were bringing food in from the kitchen, I came and sat next to you. You still haven’t said a word to me. You kind of look like you’re in shock. You’ve been here for a week now and you’ve said nothing. As I took a bite into my toast I watched you. I watched you do absolutely nothing. And I wondered. I wondered about you. Your face was different to everyone else’s. I’m sure I could remember your voice too. And if you told me your name, I’m sure I could get it. If only you’d open your mouth. I don’t want to pressure you though. You don’t have to tell me anything. When I looked at you, you seemed to not be looking anywhere. I picked up your toast and lifted it to your mouth, ‘If you don’t eat the head lady will get mad.’ You looked me in the eyes. Your eyes were not dull the same as everyone else’s. Your eyes were dull, but in a more painful way. They were emotionless and numb. When I looked into your eyes I saw nothing. Your toast fell from my hand onto your plate, and for the first time in the past seven years I felt warm damp tears trickle down my face. From my eyes to my cheeks, dropping onto my hand. When I looked into your eyes I was overwhelmed with sadness. My body became the physical embodiment of pity. Your eyes are eyes that could not easily be forgotten. You looked away from my eyes and back to your toast. You started eating, however I had lost my appetite. I wiped under my eyes and my cheeks to remove the tears. When you’re in a place where emotions are punished you do not often cry. So when, on the rare occasion, something is provoking enough to make you feel something so strong you cannot control your own bodily functions, you become shaken. We continued on with the normal daily routines. We all had our mini lessons. We all did some cleaning. We learnt manners and how to sew. Today was almost exactly the same as every other day. Almost.

                There was a visitor today. Usually the visitors aren’t all that exciting, all men or women in suits or blouses. Talking to the head lady, leaving with a baby. They smile those plastic smiles, but this visitor was different. He came in in a suit. But he didn’t walk to the head lady’s office. He walked into the day room where some of the older children were talking. He then walked outside to where some of the younger children were playing tag. I was in the middle of my story about Rapunzel and Flynn when he walked in. He didn’t say anything, he just stood there.

‘”My real name is Eugene Fitzherbert.” The princely adventurer said to the long haired maiden by his side. She smiled a kind smile toward the man and she said, “For the record, I like Eugene Fitzherbert much better than Flynn Rider.”’ All of the children’s eyes were glued on me, as were yours and the other older kids, regardless that you’d all heard the story many times. The man stood in the doorway was now sitting, listening to the story. His face, just like yours, seemed memorable, but unlike yours, his face made me want to smile, not cry. So I continued the story, bringing it to a closure, ‘As long as you dream, as long as you hope, you will never know what the future holds. If you be true to who you are you’ll get a happy ending one day. You’ll see the beauty of the world, and you’ll meet a Eugene or a Rapunzel. You’ll have your own fairy tale. I promise that to you.’ I know why the children of the orphanage were always so interested in the story. It was because they understood it. All of the children, young and old, listened to that story each night, praying that one day they could get out of their own isolated castle and find their own floating lanterns. Which is why at the end of each night I made a promise to the other children. I promised them that one day they’d get out of here. Of course, the promises were always hollow.  I couldn’t get out myself. I was the oldest there. And I was stuck. Stuck, just as these children would be. And each night I could feel the tug on my heart strings as I promised everyone a happy ending, knowing full well how minimal the chances were. But this night, while the man sat in the doorway there was no tug on my heart. The next person began their story and I walked over to the man. ‘Excuse me, do you mind if we talk in the hallway?’

The man stood up and walked out into the hall, I shut the door behind me, to ensure the children’s story was not interrupted. The man spoke first, ‘I liked the way you told that story.’

I smiled politely as we had been taught to, I struggled sentences, ‘Thanks.’

He extended his hand to me, ‘I’m Christopher.’

My hand met his. ‘Nice to meet you.’ This man had an unusual allure. He seemed genuinely kind, but he was not afraid. He was not the same as everyone else. I was counting down the moments to when I would wake up. Nothing different ever happens here. Nothing would ever stray from the usual routine of the grey walls. ‘I’m Nikki.’

‘I was trying to find the head lady’s office and stumbled upon your circle. I’m glad I stayed though.’

There it was, he was here for the head lady, ‘I can show you to her office if you’d like.’

He did something that was very rare around here, he laughed. It’d been so long since I’d heard a laugh that wasn’t forced that it startled me. You should have heard his laugh. I’d forgotten what genuine laughter sounded like, but let me tell you, it sounded just like an angel’s voice. ‘I’d love if you could take me to her office.’ His eyes never stopped smiling as he spoke, ‘Though, I’d like to talk to you first.’

‘Okay?’ I know it’s against the rules to talk to strangers, but I assumed it’d be fine as he was lost.

‘So, Nikki.’ He started walking down the hall, I followed him. He seemed to know where he was going, although he’d never been here before. ‘That promise you made those children.’

‘What about it?’

‘I just think, even if you dream and hope, your dreams will never come true if you don’t make them.’ I followed the man as we headed toward the lobby. ‘No matter how far-fetched your dream may appear, all dreams are achievable if you try.’

I’d never thought about that before, ‘I think, some dreams, if you try to pursue them, you could end up hurt.’

The man stood in the lobby looking at me, ‘You can’t learn if you don’t allow yourself the possibility to pain.’ He grabbed a coat from the hanger. This room had more than the other rooms, there was a couch. There was even a painting on one of the grey walls. ‘Nikki, follow your dreams. And remember to always keep your promises.’

The man grabbed his hat and nodded toward me. He walked out of the doors before I could say anything. Most things in this place were easy forgotten, his smile was not one. Maybe he wasn’t from this place, which could be why I couldn’t forget his smile. His words resonated in my head for days. This man whose name I knew, whose smile I’d seen, whose voice I’d heard, was stuck in my head. The word’s he’d told me were stuck in my head. Maybe that’s why you’re not easy to forget. You’re not from here are you? All those nights I spent wondering what was beyond these walls, if there were a place in the world unlike this, all those nights seemed to matter now. Because now, there was hope. That the world outside isn’t like it is in here. Although, there’s just one way for me to find out. Just like he said, how can I expect my dreams to come true if I don’t chase them? I have to be the Rapunzel of my own story. The only person who let her out of that tower was herself. The only person who can get me out of this orphanage is me. I ask of you though, while I’m gone, please, tell the children that story every night. I know you don’t like talking, but I need you to tell the kids. I need you to promise them each night that one day I’ll return. And one day, I’ll save them. I’ll give them a happy ending. And hey, while I’m out there creating a happy ending, I may find my parents. I might meet the people, who legally never existed. The two people who were painted to be imaginary. I can finally bring genuine hope and happiness to these children. I just have to go on an adventure. 

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