The Velvet Room by Wiebo Grobler

The Velvet Room was a dark, dingy arcade underneath the city viaducts, where teenagers spent weekends, permeating with musk and lust.

The Velvet Room was a landmark. It had been around for as long as most people could remember. No one knew who owned it, but it was always open, garish neon sign flickering, inviting. Like one of those bug zappers you hang on your porch.

People described the caretaker as an old man in overalls with a friendly smile or as a young man in jeans and a T-shirt with an arrogant scowl. The place was a mystery and time trap.

Hours turned into days spent in the gloom, listening to music from an old jukebox playing over crackling speakers hidden in the ceiling, drinking cheap beer and smoking cigarettes.

The old cracked and torn three-seater leather sofas dotting the corners served as beds for those the twilight The Velvet Room took.

Red, moth-eaten velvet drapes lined the walls, covering old brick, and a myriad of arcade and pinball machines lined the walls.

Sophie chewed vigorously on Bubble Yum, studying the room. Her hair held up by a green scrunchie cascaded down the left side of her cheek as she walked around, peering over the shoulders of the kids engrossed in their games.

The flashing lights from digital screens threw creeping shadows against the walls and ceiling. A myriad of dark shapes reached downwards to then disappear in flashes of light.

Sophie spotted a boy leaning against the far wall. He was looking straight at her. She’d seen him before. He wore older style clothes, but he was handsome and had a dazzling smile.

She raised her eyebrow, and he grinned back at her and disappeared.

Sophie blinked, walking over to where the boy had been.

The curtain shifted and Sophie squeaked, taking a step back. She pushed the curtain aside, and the boy was waiting at the end of a short tunnel. He waved for her to follow.

Sophie ducked down into the room beyond and stopped in amazement.

The most beautiful roller rink she’d ever seen greeted her. It was small, perhaps only big enough for ten. She ran her hand across the floor. The wood a deep ochre and polished to a sheen. She could see her own reflection.

The boy handed her a pair of roller skates. He was still smiling. His eyes were strange though. Almost panicked. She dropped onto her behind and squeezed her feet into the boots. They fit like a glove.

She looked up at the boy as he held out his hand, still grinning, like the Cheshire Cat. It would have been disconcerting if he wasn’t so damned handsome.

“My name’s, Sophie,” she said.

“Sophie,” the boy repeated, his voice light and airy like a puff of smoke.

He pulled her up, and they stepped onto the floor. Completing her first circuit she giggled with joy. It was like skating on silk. The music beyond the curtain became louder, faster. The skates felt tighter and so did the boy’s hand. Their speed increasing round and round and round.

She was getting dizzy.

Sophie tried to get off, but it felt like her feet were stuck in a groove. She couldn’t stop.

Facing the boy, she screamed as he turned towards her, his skin flaking away from his face and floating into the air like pieces of burning rice paper.

With his cheeks gone, she could see yellowed, rotting teeth through the holes. The ochre wax covering the floor cracked and drifted upwards, twirling like rose petals. They cut into her like tiny blades as she passed through them, the wood greedily drinking up her blood as they skated faster and faster.

Her boots grew tighter until finally the bones in her feet snapped and crunched together as if caught in metal compacter. Sophie collapsed in agony.

The boards cracked and splintered beneath their feet, lifting up like a tiny draw bridge. Sophie fell into a pit writhing with torn clothes and old bones.

The floorboards lowered back down, Sophie’s hand still clasped by the grinning and unmoving skeleton of a boy.

She tore at the boards breaking off her nails. The music from the arcade masking her muffled screams and frantic scratching. They weren’t the first scratch marks either.

The Velvet Room never slept, never shut down, but it had to eat.


Darren squinted, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the gloom and smoke. The Velvet Room was the place to be. He’d just moved here with his family a couple of months ago.

At the far end of the room he spotted a girl with a green scrunchie in her hair. She smiled at him and disappeared.

WIEBO GROBLER — Born in South-Africa and raised in a small farming community, Wiebo only had his imagination to keep him occupied, till he discovered the magic of books. He fell in love with the characters within from an early age. Soon he began to create his own worlds and stories in his head. These stories developed voices, which clamoured to be heard. So, he writes. Shortlisted for his flash fiction and poetry for the Fish Publishing Prize he had various stories published in Molotov Lit, National Flash Fiction Day, Reflex Fiction and more.

Art by MARIEJULIE LAFRANCE — Bilingual, Multidisciplinary artist, MarieJulie won two art scholarships while studying for her DEC in Arts in letters. She obtained her DEC in 2012. Since 2014, as an illustrator-freelancer MarieJulie uses pencils, brushes, digital software, and fabrics as tools to express her creativity. Diagnosed as a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), MJ is highly attuned to details, giving her the ability to bring a textured but flowy elegance to her work. Find out more on her website: