“No fair, Alina got the last cookie!”
“Ben, sometimes in life you can't have everything,” Alina said and chowed down on a chocolate chip cookie.
Gooey, decadent chocolate streamed out of the cookie, like silk ribbons. The cookie looked soft and buttery, crumbs spilling out underneath.
Alina gobbled it right up.
Alina patted me on the back, and said, “You can always make more cookies, y’know. It’s not like that was the last cookie in the world.”
“What if it was?” I asked.
“I would’ve still eaten it,” she said and raced up the stairs.
“Catch me if you can!”
Our house was...cool. It wasn’t a normal house that a third-grader would live in. Everything was antique, which translated to that I wasn’t allowed to play with anything, unless it was on a computer or drawing.
Not that I was complaining.
Basically, when you entered, there would be a place to put your shoes. Past that, it split into 3 pathways; the staircase, the kitchen/dining room, and the living room. The staircase was a wooden swirly one, that wrapped around the pole in the middle of it. The kitchen was quite fancy. Almost everything was made of black marble, except for the oven, fridge, toaster and sink.
They were all made of boring steel.
The dining room looked like it belonged in a 17th-century room. All the chairs had swirly decorations on them and were painted in silver. A giant chandelier with crystal embellishments adorned the lights, and the hanger was made out of gold.
Real gold, I didn’t know.
The living room looked like where a British tea party would take place. There was a tiny little pink table, where little teacups made of china would sit there, with no tea in them at all.
Three couches surrounded the table, each one meter long. The cloth was a light beige, with maroon flowers plastered everywhere.
How ugly, isn’t it? Grandma probably designed the decor, it was just so...old.
I raced up the staircase, just at the heels of Alina.
Being the younger brother always means I’m behind, below, second.
Alina makes it better, though.
“Ha, I beat you again,” Alina panted, pausing for breath in between her words.
“I’ll beat you next time,” I responded.
“Ha, like that’s ever gonna happen. Follow me, I wanna show you something,” she said and waved me into her room.
This was unusual, Alina never let anyone inside her room, not even Mom.
Which meant this was a special offer.
“What do you want to show me?”
“I made a fantabulous plan.”
“Really Ben, you are oblivious to everything,” Alina said, sat down and pulled out a drawer.
“What does oblivious mean?” I asked, and sat down next to her.
“Ugh, never mind. The plan I made was for our new treehouse!”
“We’re getting a treehouse?”
“Yep! It’s for my birthday next week, and Mom and Dad are letting us build it!” Alina said, spreading out a blueprint out on her bed.
Why Mom and Dad gave the treehouse to Alina instead of me, I will never know, but the blueprint looked pretty interesting.
“How do we build it?” I asked and looked over her shoulder to examine the plan.
“So basically we use these oak boards and then this glue and we put it in an octagonal formation and…” Alina droned off, explaining how to build that treehouse in the most complicated way possible.
Only Albert Einstein could’ve made it more complicated.
Wowee, my sister was a math nerd, so look how that fits.
“Does Mom and Dad know that you have a blueprint?” I asked, curious.
“How did they expect us to build it?” I asked, now confused.
“I don’t know, I think they wanted us to get a guide instead of me making one,” Alina replied and stretched out her legs.
“Don’t we need wood?”
“Yeah, we’re gonna get it from the basement.”
“When can we start?” I asked, anxious to start building.
“Now! Race ya to the basement!” Alina shouted and suddenly jumped off the bed and ran out of the room.
I sprang up from the bed and raced after Alina, sprinting downstairs and almost crashed into 3 tables.
My breath was steady, consistent and quick.
I passed Alina.
This sounds really lame, but that was my first time ever getting in front of Alina.
“No,” Alina panted, as little as 10 centimetres behind me.
“Yes!” I responded, two steps away from the basement.
Thumping down the stairs, I flicked on the light a second before Alina’s feet touched the ground.
“That doesn’t count, you were just lucky,” Alina said, sucking in her breath with tiredness.
“You always say that,” I said as I looked around.
Saying that was weird because my whole house was orderly and organized, so the basement was a horror.
There were boxes everywhere, things spilling out of them with thick coats of dust layered on top. Stocks of food piled on top of shelves, with honey and marinara sauce that looked well past its expiration date. Pictures of Mom and Dad in their teens stared down at us expectingly, waiting for us to do something.
That was creepy.
“Look, these are some wood planks we can use. Can you take them to the backyard?” Alina asked, pointing to a pile of wood on the floor.
Alina always gave the hard work to me.
I scooped up the wood, the edges threatening to give me splinters. I hauled them up the staircase, across the house, and even managed to open the back door.
A monarch butterfly perched on one of the branches, fluttering its orange wings.
Mom’s voice called out, “Alina, Ben, dinner’s ready!”
The butterfly’s wings flapped about, and it flew into the sky, disappearing into the clouds.
I ran inside, slamming into my seat at the dinner table.
“Woah kiddo, here’s your food,” Mom said and placed a plate of roast chicken under my face.
I started gobbling it up right away, not caring about manners at all.
“What were you doing earlier?” Mom asked, aiming the question at Alina.
I stared at Alina intently, reminding her to not give away the secret.
“Um...I have a blueprint,” Alina stuttered out, giving me a forgiving face.
Alina could just not keep a secret, for the life of her.
“Oh okay, great job,” said Dad, and started talking about work-related things.
I bent down to Alina and whispered, “Why did you tell them?”
“I just can’t lie Ben, you know that,” she whispered back to me under the table.
“Yeah, just tomorrow let me do the talking.”
We sat back up, backs straight, and ate dinner.
The next day, at exactly 3:27 pm, I burst into Alina’s room with my hands flailing over my head.
“BOO!” I shouted and looked at Alina.
She was sitting in front of a computer, and the camera light was red, which meant it was recording something.
“Ugh, I was recording my Student Council speech, and now I’ll have to do it all over again. You didn’t even ask to come in, ”Alina groaned and closed her computer.
“Sorry, it’s just I wanted to start building the treehouse today. If you’re done school work,” I asked very politely.
“Yeah, okay, let’s go to the basement to get some supplies.”
“No, I’m tired today,” Alina responded, and walked out of the room.
“Okay,” I said with disappointment, as I followed her downstairs and into the basement.
As light flooded the room, Alina said, “I’ll get the glue, and you can get the tools.”
I nodded my head and walked to the back of the basement.
I picked up a screwdriver, a hammer, some nails, and when I reached over to grab a wrench, I saw something unusual.
A ball, sticking out of the wall.
Golden, but rusty, kinda like Grandma’s doorknob, with little fingerprints printed everywhere.
“Alina, I found something weird over here,” I called, urging her to come.
“What did you find?” she asked, crouching down to take a better look.
“This thing that looks like a doorknob is coming out of the wall.”
“Hmm, maybe the people that lived here before us forgot to demolish it,” Alina said, got up and walked away like it was nothing.
I stood up, keeping my view on the doorknob. I backed away slowly until I reached the basement stairs, and I ran up them. At the top, I paused for a few seconds and listened.
I ran outside with the tools in my hands, realizing I was afraid of the doorknob.
I didn’t know why.
The next day at dinner, Mom asked us again, “How was your day?”
I shot a look at Alina, signalling to her to not talk about anything.
“Um, I did some of my science project today.”
Yes, go Alina.
“Oh, you’ve been doing those for a while, haven’t you?” Dad asked, slurping up his noodles noisily.
“Yeah,” Alina said, staring down at her spaghetti, looking like she thought spaghetti was revolting.
“Anything else?” Mom asked, as if prompting Alina to tell about the doorknob.
“...wefoundarandomdoorknobinthemiddleofthewall,” Alina spat out in a single breath and stuffed her face full of spaghetti so she wouldn’t have to answer any questions.
“Could you repeat that sweetie?” Mom asked, her face curdling with worry.
“Uh, at school we started a new project on worms!” I piped up, sparing Alina the trouble of talking about what had happened in the basement.
“Oh really? When I was your age, I used to love worms,” Dad said, smiling.
“May I go to the bathroom?” Alina asked dramatically, her mouth bulging as if something was gonna fall out.
Alina rushed off to the bathroom before Mom could finish, and we all heard an unpleasant sound of retching and forced breathing.
I don’t even know if she threw up from the worms, spaghetti or the doorknob.
Might’ve been all three.
After dinner was done and Alina’s throat was nice and clean, I gathered up the courage to ask her something she most likely would say no to.
“Can we go back in the basement?”
Alina looked down at her feet, sighing.
I was shocked. Alina proved my theory at dinner that she too was scared of the doorknob, but now she was saying yes and…
Alina started walking to the basement, not saying a word.
I followed her, not wanting to miss this chance.
Once we were in the basement, Alina’s jaw dropped and pointed at the wall.
I followed her finger, and what I found was terrifying.
Where the doorknob was, there was a door.
A real-life door, with black smoke spilling out of the edges, moaning sounds flowing from that creepy door.
Alina backed up moving away slowly like I had the day before, but I was curious, so I stepped closer.
“What in the world are you doing?” Alina whispered.
I put my hand up, asking her to be silent.
I crept closer, trying to cautious of what or who might’ve been in there. The doorknob glistened, much shinier than it had been yesterday. My reflection looked back at me, watching. The door itself was kinda boring, to be honest. It was a dark brown, like most doors, and...that was it.
The smoke is what was interesting.
It curled out of the door, flowing out a little bit like dry ice would. The black was hard to see in the basement shadows, but you could tell it was there. It was wispy, like thoughts, like decisions, like Alina’s voice.
Open the door, Ben. Such nice things are hidden inside. Do you like ice cream? There’s a freezer of ice cream inside.
My internal voice was screaming NO!
My brain said Yes.
My hand reached out, shivering from the lack of heat in the basement. My hand closed around the ice-cold doorknob, glistening with polish.
Alina, come here
A wispy figure stepped out that was made out of black smoke, the same that was spilling out of the now-open doorway. It was a wolf, but with a human voice, a voice so silky smooth.
Alina, come here. Wouldn’t you like to abolish spaghetti? It’s the worst food anyway, right?
Alina absolutely hated spaghetti.
Alina’s eyes turned white, a swirling ball of nothingness.
She mindlessly started walking towards the wolf.
Alina was right in front of the wolf, smiling.
Thank you, Alina.
The wolf backed up, raising its head high, and licked its lips.
I was not gonna let a black smoke wolf eat my sister.
I jumped in front of Alina, waving my arms to stop the wolf from hurting her.
The wolf’s claws scraped against Alina’s skin, drawing bright red blood.
Alina pawed vigorously like she was doing the doggie paddle, with her eyes closed.
The wolf was gone.
Alina smiled at me, her eyes back to normal. She ran towards me and embraced me in a hug.
“Thanks so much, Ben,” she cried. “You stopped that...thing.”
“You are welcome,” I responded with lots of arrogance.
“Is it okay if I tell Mom and Dad?”
“Well now you have a scar on your face, so yeah, tell them.”
Now I sit here, on my patio, remembering that moment.
It’s been 8 decades, 80 years since that wolf had visited me and Alina. My 88th birthday was only yesterday, and Alina’s 94th a few weeks ago.
I’m surprised I could remember something that was so long ago.
I look over to Alina, who is gazing at the butterflies in the backyard.
She always loved butterflies and always will.
I switch my gaze onto her scar.
Right below her left eye, just sitting there. It’s faded a lot in 80 years, but it was still there.
A little brown line, starting below her eye and ending at her chin.
Faded, but still there.
“Alina, do you remember when you got your scar?”
She smiles at me just as a butterfly comes to perch on her still fingers.
“Yes Ben, I remember.”
“Do you know what gave you that scar?”
“Sigh. Ben, they say as you get older, you get wiser, but I really don’t know what happened. I haven’t gotten that much wiser since I was 14.”
I chuckle, along with Alina’s smile while she looks at the butterfly.
A monarch butterfly, with orange and black wings, just like the one decades ago.
Who knows, this butterfly can be the great-grandson of that one.
I giggle with the thought, startling the butterfly and making it fly away.
Alina said, “You know Ben, I can’t lie.”
“Yes Alina, I know.”
“I love butterflies.”
“And I think I have found a new favourite.”