What Lies Beneath

or: why you should never scuff your shoes while riding the escalator

Have you ever rubbed your shoe against the brushes while riding an escalator? Most little boys and girls do, and most of the time they’re okay. Nothing bad comes of it, other than their mothers telling them off for ruining their good shoes.

Sometimes though, if you happen to wind up scuffing your shoes against the wrong escalator in the wrong department store, the vibrations can awaken something. Something that lurks deep within its inner workings, hidden from all the ordinary shoppers going about their business.

You’ll know when you’ve awoken it because of the flash of light and then the ghastly sound. The deep hollow sound calling your name through the slits in the escalator. How does it even know your name? It just knows. The simplest way to avoid awakening ‘it’ is to never scuff your shoes, but where would the fun be in that?

Besides, most escalators are perfectly safe. Most of them, if you were to slip through the gaps in the steps, would lead you to a room filled with nothing worse than some noisy machinery, dusty cogs, oily pulleys and discarded sweetie wrappers. There’s a simple test you can do actually to separate the safe escalators from the ones that are not safe for life.

First you have to start at the top, letting your shoes drag against the brush trim that flanks the escalator as it carries you downward. Then, when you reach the bottom and the stairs flatten out, gaze between the gaps, for it is in this moment that you will discover what lies beneath. If the slivers of light that flash between the cracks are green, you’re safe. But if you see a flash of red, followed by that low, hollow sound moaning your voice, run. Run and don’t look back, and whatever you do, don’t ascend the up escalator and then ride back down to find out if you were imagining things.

That’s what little India did. Poor, innocent Indi. Without so much as a tug on her mother’s sleeve, she scurried back up to level two (“Homeware and Furnishings”) in the Primark on Princes Street. Her mother was so busy inspecting a gingham summer dress she hadn’t even noticed her girl was gone.

Indi scrambled back up the escalator, climbing the stairs to hasten her ascent to the top. She bounded past the end of the escalator, crossed level two as fast as her chubby little legs would carry her and then began her descent, rubbing her plimsolls against the side just as before.

When she neared the bottom she stood stock still in the very centre of the escalator, arms by her side and head tilted forward. Closer and closer she loomed to the end of the escalator, and suddenly there it was, a first flash of red light, and then a second one, and then that horrible low voice – “Iiiiiiiiiiinnnnnddddiiiii” – summoning her before a scaly claw reached through a gap in the stairs and she felt herself being drawn down into the belly of the machine. The bright comforting lights of Primark and its discount gingham dresses faded from view and in its place India found herself standing in a dark and smoky room that smelt of diesel and dragon’s breath.

A pair of red eyes glared at the startled girl and then, with a horrible coughing sound, it spoke. “Hi, I’m Nick. Did you scuff your shoes against the side of my escalator?”

Indi nodded.

“That’s unfortunate. Oh well. You seem nice, but rules are rules. I can’t have boys and girls thinking they can scuff their shoes against the sides of my escalator or everyone would be doing it. Hi Indi. Bye Indi.”

At that, the creature pulled a lever and with a clank and a bang a large spout shot down from the roof. There followed a bump and a bang and a whirl and the apparatus pulled the girl inside. The machine clanked and bellowed, a puff of smoke came out and a conveyor belt started to turn. A hatch shot open and then something emerged from the machine. It wasn’t an India though: it was a small sparkly t-shirt that read “i <3 unicorns”.

Nick pushed another button, a door opened in the side of the machinery room and a beam of light flooded in from Primark level one. A shop assistant appeared, picked up the neatly folded t-shirt and added it to a rack full of identical “i <3 unicorns” t-shirts.

So the next time you’re in Primark, or any other store selling unicorn apparel, you’ll know where they got their magical clothing: from the souls of boys and girls who didn’t heed the warning and disappeared through the cracks in the escalator, taken by what lies beneath.


Story by Kai. Pictures by India and Emilie.