The old house, with its wildly overgrown garden, was silent, secretive. It was like a mystery that needed to be solved.
She stated at it as she walked by every day on her way home from school. Something was drawing her to it. She stood staring up the long walk way, past the decrepit front porch, roof sagging up to the impossibly tall windows that lined the second story. The windows were the most interesting part of the house.
Tall and imposing, they were elongated, tapering to a point at the top. Narrow rectangles, taller than they were wide. What secrets were hidden behind those windows?
As she watched, she swore she saw a curtain move. She froze to the spot, torn between an impulse to run and a stronger impulse to go inside. Her heart was thumping in her chest at the thought of it.
It was wrong, forbidden, unsafe and oh so tempting. What could it possible hurt? She would just step inside for a moment, have a look around, and uncover its secrets.
Almost unbidden, her feet began to move up the crumbling walk way. She watched her own hand reach out and push open the sun bleached front gate, rusty hinges screaming out their protest at being disturbed.
She clumped up the cement front steps, the sound of her shoes scuffing the ground loud in her ears. It was like every noise she made here was amplified somehow. She was disrupting the silence that had enveloped the house for untold years.
The front door was wooden with glass plating and a brass knob. A knob she grasped with her sweaty hand and turned. The door opened freely, easily.
Stepping inside she was greeted by soaring ceilings, doorways on either side of a hallway that lead off to the rest of the house in front of her to the left and to her right, a stairway. Her eyes locked on the stairway. A faint thump floated down to her, then a child’s giggle.
She started up the stairs as they creaked and groaned under her weight. She steadied herself with the banister, which coated her hand in decades of dust.
At the top of the stairs she paused and glanced back down toward the front door. She could turn around now and hurry back down the stairs but then she would never know what secrets were behind those windows. Turning back she stepped into the upstairs hallway. She was in a hallway, deep lush carpeting under her feet. How could it be so bright and red? It showed no signs of years of neglect that the downstairs flooring had.
She looked to her right, the hallway was short ending in a window. She looked left, the hallway stretched out seemingly forever. Somehow she knew that was the direction she was supposed to go. She padded down the hallway slowly taking in the sparkling chandeliers and the paintings hanging on the walls, watching and witnessing everything.
There were so many doors. She could see another window at the end of hallway but it never seemed to get any closer as she walked. She reached out and trailed her hands along the wall, the textured wallpaper rough and comforting under her fingers.
A door on her left creaked open and she stopped and stood outside it for a long moment. Again, she glanced behind her, back down the impossibly long hallway. The stairs seemed so far away now. Again she considered that she could turn away now and run back down the hallway. There was still time. And again, she turned back to face whatever it was that was calling her. She had to know what was in that room.
She watched, detached, as her arm reached out and pushed the door further open.
The room before her was carpeted wall to wall, a sea of beige full of the most amazing toys she had ever seen. With a sharp intake of breath, she stepped inside and stared around in awe at the colorful chests full of toys, the life size doll, the three story dollhouse, the trucks, balls, plastic horses, stuffed animals, tops, sets of toy dishes, a toy horse big enough to sit on and more, it was better than the toy store on the square that mama use to take her to at Christmastime!
She was so immersed that she almost didn’t notice the little boy in the corner. He was seated in a child sized rocking chair and when he closed the book in his lap, she jumped a little.
“Oh! You started me!” She said
“Sorry.” He sat the book down and approached her.
“It’s ok. What is this place? Do you live here?”
“Yes,” he said, “and so do you now.”
“What do you mean?”
In response he turned and walked to the window. The window she had seen from the street. It must have been the boy that had moved the curtain. She followed him to it and looked down into the street below.
There, on the ground, was her crumpled body. There was an ambulance, people were gathered around everywhere, coming of their homes to gawk. A car sat at an awkward angel blocking the road. She turned toward him in confusion.
“What happened?” she asked
“You died.” He said bluntly, “You could have gone back. Twice they got your heart beating again and twice you turned away.”
“Oh.” Was all she could think to say.
Her mind wandered back to her time on earth, to the big empty house she now went home to, to the aunt and uncle who had taken her in out of obligation but not love. To her mother’s face, warm and loving and gone. She flashed on her mother’s funeral and the bullying she had endured at school, the other children who delighted in her pain and taunting her with the word “orphan”. No wonder she had turned back both times.
“Is this heaven?”
“No, this is a construct of your mind and I’m simply a guide to help you along. Think of this as the waiting room between the two planes of existence. You are welcome to stay here as long as you please, as long as you need.”
“Where will I go when I’m ready?” She asked.
As if in answer, a glowing door appeared in the wall behind the boy, a long glimmering hallway stretching out from it. At the end she could see her mother, radiant and beautiful, waiting. With a cry of joy she ran through the door, flew down the passageway and into her mother’s waiting arms.