My sister and I don’t talk about what happened in the summer of 1989 all that often. Sometimes I wonder if she even remembers. Both of us had overactive imaginations, and as of late, I have realized too many of my memories never happened.
I am sure that it was the first year that my mom and dad did not send us to a babysitter during summer vacation. I was the wise old age of ten, and my sister had just turned eight. Dad had found a used Nintendo for cheap to buy. He said we could play it all summer to keep us occupied. The one cartridge it came with had both Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the plastic orange gun, so all we could play was Mario.
Since the world is full of bad people, we had strict rules not to leave the house. There was also no opening the doors to ANYONE, not even our friends. Finally, under no circumstances were we to answer the phone.
It did not take long for us to tire of the Nintendo, and tv in the daytime was boring as nails. But, each day, the outdoors called to us. If only we could ride our bikes or at least play in the backyard.
Now, it WAS the eighties, so there was no way to track us with phones or GPS, and since we were explicitly told not to answer the phone, my parents would not call home. (Although my father rectified this by purchasing one of those new-fangled answering machines, where you could screen the calls ahead of time.)
We were kids, and we got bored. So on a sunny day, we made a plan to see if we could get away with going outside. My sister and I did nothing small, and we decided it was essential to create disguises. That way, no one could tell who had escaped the confines of the house.
Having both recently read Lord of the Flies, we opted for characters from the book. I would be Ralph, of course, being the leader of this endeavor. She chose Piggy. I could never understand why she wanted to be him. First off, she was thin, just skin and bones. Second, why would anyone choose the character that dies?! Looking back, I had a better sense of my sister’s deep connection to logic, and it made more sense.
We tested the water by donning our Lord of the Flies costumes and running a lap around the house. Since we were both girls, it was essential to yell our names as we ran. In addition, it would lend credence to our costume choice. I went first, my face painted with lipstick war-paint and a headband made from one of my dad’s ties around my head. “RALPH!” I screamed as I ran around the house, carefully avoiding the wasp nest hanging on the outside porch.
I watched intently as my sister went next, pillows stuffed into her shirt. She pumped her legs as fast as she could as she made her way around the house, yelling, “PIGGGGGGYY!” I noticed old Mrs. Johnson from next door, poking her head out the window and shaking it in disappointment. She never seemed happy with anything we did. Faster! I willed my sister on, praying no one saw her. But, to my chagrin, Mrs. Johnson’s owl eyes locked onto mine as my sister rounded the last corner, then shifted to Amy. I knew she would tell on us.
Sure as shit, when mom and dad got home that evening, we were in big trouble for breaking the rules.
“Do you want to go back to Mrs. Landry’s Daycare?” My mom asked. She shook her head and frowned. My dad stood behind her, trying not to laugh.
I hung my head with the proper amount of shame and said, “No, Ma’am.”
After the Mrs. Johnson incident, we laid low and rethought our strategy. Perhaps yelling drew too much attention.
That weekend Mom and Dad had rented the movie Beetlejuice from the video store. After watching it, I concluded that there are many ways to escape our reality without stepping outside our house. I had a plan.
We didn’t have to leave the house, to leave the house! So I figured the best bet would be to go through the old wardrobe in the basement. A closet was a prime place to explore other worlds. C. S. Lewis had taught me that!
Now, our basement was a terrifying thing. We lived in an old New England house built in the early 1900s. Half of it was just a dug-out root cellar, and the other half at least had concrete. My sister refused to go there because she knew people got murdered in basements, and there were often gateways to hell. So as much as we wanted to get out of the house, she had no desire to go to hell. After learning our fears, my parents had lovingly dubbed it “The Murder Basement.”
I tiptoed down the stairwell and yanked the door to the old wardrobe open. Of course, there was only darkness, but I was pretty confident we could make our way to Narnia through it. I threw in one of my mom’s old coats and some mothballs in for good measure.
When I headed back upstairs, I couldn’t find my sister anywhere.
“Amy! Amy, where are you!” I shouted.
“Up here,” she called.
As I made my way upstairs to our bedroom, I saw her standing in front of the wall with a black sharpie in hand. There was a crooked outline of a rectangle, with a “Door” label off to the side.
“This will probably be better,” she said.
“No, the wardrobe works fine; let’s just use that!” I protested. “It’s not gonna work, anyway. We aren’t dead. And I don’t want to go to some stupid office.”
“Well, we don’t have to go there! I bet if we label it right, we can go wherever we want!” She stared me down. Typically, I was the one in charge, but she got this look in her eyes every so often. And when that happened, she was always right.
“What’s wrong with Narnia?” I asked.
“I just want to do this.”
“Fine- but let me write the words, your handwriting sucks. What should I write?” I asked.
“How about Goblin City?” She replied.
“Okay, that sounds like it may be fun. Maybe David Bowie will be there in tight pants,” I said, waggling my eyebrows at her.
“You’re Gross, Katie!”
Next to my sister’s crooked door, I wrote the words Goblin City in neat letters, then stepped back to admire my work. “Okay, now what?”
“We knock three times,” she said.
I raised my hand to knock and stopped short. The door was all wrong. “Wait here; I have an idea!”
I ran back down to the basement as fast as I could and grabbed my dad’s metal yardstick, then booked it back up to the room where Amy had drawn her door. Next, I drew a new one, with lines as straight as possible, and labeled it “anywhere door.”
“What was wrong with mine? You always think you can do everything better than me!” she whined.
“No, Amy, that was just in case straight lines were important. I promise. When you get to be ten, you will draw doors just as well as I do.”
I tapped her head with the long metal stick, and she shoved it away.
“Why don’t you choose?” I said.
Her eyes flashed with frustration as she stared at the two doors, then she walked straight up to the crooked one she had drawn and rapped on it three times. We waited.
My shoulders slumped. I had thought something would happen.
“Amy, you have to REALLY believe,” I accused.
She frowned at me and puffed her cheeks out. “Fine, you do it.”
I nodded and cautiously approached the door I had drawn.
“Okay, this time, shut your eyes. It’s like, in Peter Pan. You have to believe, or it won’t work.”
“Fine, Fine,” she replied.
I squeezed my eyes shut as tight as I could. “Are yours shut?”
“Yes,” she answered.
Slowly, I knocked. Once, twice, three times.
My eyes remained closed for some time until I felt my sister’s hand in mine. Her voice sounded just below my ear. “I think we did it.”
When my eyes blinked open, we were standing next to each other. I think wherever we were was huge, but the only thing I could see was a bright spotlight. It shone in our eyes like the one above the stage at dance recitals. The light blinded us and blocked out everything that may have been there from our view. After adjusting to the spotlight, we could see only darkness ahead. The inky black was darker than anything I had ever seen.
A giant ball of ice formed in my belly, and I squeezed my sister’s hand tighter.
“What the heck” I whispered.
My eyes followed the stream of light, looking for the door back to our bedroom. But all I could see was a long, empty hallway with no doors or any kind.
“Should we go back?” My sister squeaked.
“I don’t know how,” I admitted. “I suppose we could just start walking down that hallway.”
“Maybe the way out is invisible, like in the Labyrinth, and you can’t see the doors.”
“Hmm, maybe,” I answered, distracted by the giant wheel I saw in front of the spotlight. It was smooth and wooden, like the steering wheel of a pirate ship.
I approached it, running my hand along the polished wood before turning the wheel slowly. As I pushed it, the spotlight creaked and groaned and turned in the opposite direction.
“Keep trying!” My sister was bouncing in her shoes, excited.
As the light made its way around to the other side, we saw a group of seven children playing tag.
“Hello?” I called out.
All seven of the children turned their heads in unison to look at me. Then they walked in our direction. But, on closer inspection, each child’s eye sockets were empty and dark as the hallway behind us.
They continued to creep towards us, and I stood frozen in fear, like a deer caught in headlights. What’s worse is my voice had run away too.
“NOPE!” I heard my sister shout, then her little hands shoved me to the ground, and she was turning the wheel.
When my senses returned, they were no longer approaching us. The children were still, a black and white snapshot, caught up in time. They only moved when the light was shining on them.
As the wheel clicked back to its original position, the hallway disappeared, replaced by a giant throne. A huge, fat baby lounged on it, like the rosy cherubs painted on church windows, and next to it, a woman hunched over working on something.
I was positive she was working on a loom because we had a school field trip back in May to Strawbery Banke. They had an actual real working loom there. She turned to look at me and grinned, plucking a thread from her work and releasing it into the air. An invisible wind blew the string away, and I watched as it floated into the darkness.
“That’s a loom, Amy.” She didn’t reply, just stood dumbfounded and staring.
The giant baby turned his head towards us and let out a laugh.
“Where the heck are we?” I asked it.
The baby just chuckled louder, and the woman plucked another thread from her work.
I pulled myself to my feet, dusting invisible dirt from my cut-off shorts, and walked back towards the giant wheel. Then, glancing back at the scene, I turned it once again, praying I was right in that there would be no more creepy kids.
When the light shone on the children again, there were only two girls. Amy and I stared into the eyes of our twins as they walked toward us.
“Hello!” she called.
“Hello!” her mirror called back.
They both giggled and started running towards each other, and Amy’s twin reached out to touch her hand.
It was only then that I noticed they did not have eyes in their sockets. “What the heck?”
I turned to my sister just as her mirror image brushed my sister’s skin. At that moment, our twins turned to huge black shadows with long claws and a dark mist surrounding them. The darkness seeped into my sister’s mouth and nostrils, and she flailed, struggling to breathe. Finally, her hand dissipated like it was breaking into millions of tiny molecules where the shadow twin had touched her.
I grasped for her solid arm and yanked her back to the wheel, turning it furiously until it pointed the opposite direction.
The scene where the baby had sat before was almost precisely the same. This time, the only difference was that instead of a baby, an old man lounged on the throne. The woman didn’t look up, just continued working furiously on her tapestry.
He met my eyes and bellowed out a laugh. “Children? What are children doing in my realm?”
My sister had somehow lost her voice, so I spoke for both of us.
“I’m sorry, sir, we were just trying to have fun.”
His face softened. “You should not be here.”
A tiny box appeared in his hand, and he held it towards me. “A gift”
As I approached the throne, I took the tiny silver box from his hand. My sister had still not moved, so I just dragged her along with me. Inside the box was a single piece of chalk. My eyes raised to look at the old man. What was I supposed to do with chalk? He just waved me away.
I had watched enough movies to know I shouldn’t press my luck. Grabbing Amy’s wrist, I yanked her back to the wheel and turned it one more time.
This time all the spotlight revealed was a red brick wall. As soon as I saw it, I knew what to do.
“Come on, Amy, let’s go home.”
She nodded as I pulled her towards the wall.
I sketched out a new door as carefully as I could, making sure each of the lines was as even as possible, then squeezed her hand. “Okay, close your eyes.”
My eyes squeezed shut as well, and I knocked on the chalk door three times. Finally, after blinking them open, we were back in our bedroom, staring at the outlines of two doors. We were going to get in so much trouble for drawing on the walls.
Amy and I glanced at each other, not saying a word until I broke the silence.
“No one is ever going to believe us.”
“I know,” she whispered.
That’s all we ever spoke about the incident. Throughout that summer, and after some of my courage returned, I had tried to go back. Nothing ever happened. Perhaps Amy was the one with the magic, or you needed more belief than I had by myself.
I asked her about it not too long ago. All she recalled was drawing on the walls, nothing more. But it happened. Of this, I am sure.