Close the Door
By Mary Walz
Images by Lauren Biggerstaff
Only a half hour left until it’s time to close the door. I’m sitting at the kitchen table, trying to concentrate on math homework. I tap my pencil and glance at the clock again. My mom gave me strict instructions to leave my dog, Buddy, outside as late as possible, so that he can make it through the night while we lock ourselves in the house. I sigh and try to focus on long division for Mrs. Anderson’s 2nd period class.
Twenty-three minutes later I go outside to look for him. I check all of his favorite spots, under the willow tree, in-between the lilacs, behind the rock that’s shaped like a heart. He’s not in any of them.
“Buddy!” I yell. “Buddy, come here!”
There’s no sign of movement.
“Buddy I have a treat for you, do you want a treat?”
Still nothing. I walk back into the house to check the time. It’s past time to close the door, dangerously late, the clock hand has edged far over the six, each tick sending the butterflies in my stomach into a frenzy. Sucking in a long, uneven breath, I peer through the window that looks through the door to my garage and into the culs de sac behind. It looks empty, the yellow light of the lamp starting to glow in the fading dusk light. Releasing my breath, I pull the door open just enough to reach my hand out and hit the down button. The big door lowers, creaking loudly, flinchingly, interrupting the peace of the scene outside. It gets closer to the ground, inching towards it, narrowing the gap to three feet…two feet… and then it stops. My heart stops too. The door starts moving again, but in the wrong direction, allowing previously nonexistent lights to flood in from the outside, flashing different colors, spinning. Underneath the sound of the garage is music, eerily familiar. But when the door lifts high enough for me to see, there is nothing there. No music, no multicolored lights, just the vacant street with its lonely lamp. My heart starts up again, maybe it was just a mistake.
like how I’m convinced after watching a horror movie that every stray noise is actually serial killer waiting to add me to their list of victims.
It was just a mistake. I press the down button again and the metal door folds downwards. And once again, it stops a foot from the ground and the music starts up. Rocking back and forth, I try to figure out what to do. Buddy’s outside on his own, helpless. But I’m supposed to stay inside. The rules are there for a reason. Lock up by six p.m. every solstice. Nobody seems to know the reason for this, the government won’t tell, but people that don’t listen seem to go missing, so everyone follows, my parents trusted me to follow. They’re waiting out this summer solstice at a friend’s, probably drinking and gambling. Celebrating the “Fairies’ favorite holiday”.
I chew on my lip. It’d be my fault if anything happened to Buddy. He looked so happy to go out earlier. He sat by the door wagging his tail until I opened it and then raced into the yard. Thinking about him out there all by himself, so cute and small, I realize I have to go after him. Before I lose my nerve, I hit the button again, wait until the music starts up, and roll underneath the door. Brushing myself off, I stumble to my feet.
“Buddy?” I yell again before looking up. Once I do, my jaw drops, so does my stomach. The familiarity of my neighborhood has disappeared. Where the lamp once stood is a ticket booth, Mrs. Erickson’s house is now a hut with a neon sign advertising a game of ring toss, only 99 cents for three rings. My neighborhood has turned into a carnival, abandoned. Everywhere I look are flashing lights and colors, the smell of slightly burnt popcorn fills my nose. I can’t place where the music is coming from, it echoes faintly around me, enticing, dizzying. I shake my head, clearing it. Buddy loves popcorn, he’s always trying to steal mine. Knowing him, he’d make a beeline towards it. I walk over to a stand that looks like a giant popcorn bag, the classic one with the red stripes. A window is cut in the middle of it, right underneath the yellow lights spelling out the product.
I lean in, “Buddy?”
I don’t see him but my mouth waters as the smell overwhelms my senses. Looking around, there is still no one in sight. I fling one leg through the opening, then the other, and slide in over the counter, slipping through spilled butter that soaks into my gray sweatpants. The popcorn machine is half full, paper bags sitting ready. I grab one and quickly fill it before hopping back out and continuing down the street, popping pieces into my mouth. It’s delicious, butter and salt perfectly applied, not burnt at all. I walk past stands filled with more food: corn dogs, pretzels, nachos. I peer into booth after booth, there’s no sign of my dog. Stopping at the bumper cars, I wind my way between them, looking for any sign of movement. They cars inch back and forth, pushed by a soft breeze, like they’re ready to jump into motion any second. I sit in a blue one, taking a second to evaluate the situation, pushing off the ground to spin around as I finish my popcorn.
A bark echoes over the carnival music. Leaving the empty popcorn bag in the car, I run back out onto the street. There he is racing towards me down the row of lights, tongue hanging out, ears flapping. He jumps at me, hitting my knees with his paws, knocking me over. I fall and he starts licking my face.
“Buddy, stop.” I laugh, pulling him onto my lap, stroking his soft brown fur. “Where’d you go?”
He looks at me happily with his dark, brown eyes wide, still panting. We’re close to the end of the street now, sitting in front of an enormous carousel, its haunting melody welcoming. Its walls alternate between gilded scenes of forests and animals and full-length mirrors reflecting the horses waiting to gallop around on their poles. They tower over me, bigger than life-size and painted with enough skill to look almost real.
The music gets louder. Buddy snaps to attention, ears perked up. Suddenly, he jumps off my lap, claws scratching my bare legs.
“Ouch! Buddy!” He runs under the gate and onto the carousel. I push myself off the ground and follow. The entrance is only a few feet away, I walk towards it and swing the door open, the feeling of the cold metal bar lingering on my clammy skin. A red carpet leads me up the steps and into the soft, golden light. Buddy is sniffing the hoof of a rearing black stallion halfway around the circle, caught mid-motion, tossing its mane. When I reach him he looks at me and barks.
I pick him up. “You can’t run off like that little guy.” Turning back, I carry him to the entrance. But when I try to walk through I end up next to the stallion, again. I almost drop Buddy, which he doesn’t like, squirming out of my arms and escaping into the street. I try to run after him, but once again I’m back where I was, my dog gone. Biting my fingernail, I try again, no luck. Trying to keep my breathing steady, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My dark hair is sticking to my neck, my face white, like it was before last winter’s 5th grade Christmas pageant, making my too-small eyes stand out like identical black holes. I’m dwarfed by the horses surrounding me. I look at the nearest one. Am I supposed to get on? I can’t go anywhere else, so I guess it’s worth a try. It’s so much taller than me that I barely manage to hoist myself onto it, even with the help of the silver stirrup. I settle into the saddle and grab the reins, as soon as I touch them the carousel whirs into action. The music fills my ears as I go up and down, spinning faster and faster, the outside lights turning into blurred lines as the music crescendos. The plastic of the horse beneath me grows soft, transforming into hair, moving with each breath. He snorts, and tosses his head, flipping his long, black mane. The pole that was supporting us melts away and his hooves hit the ground, drumming a thundering beat. A whinny sounds behind us. Turning around I see the other horses gathered into a heard following behind.
The black stallion moves into a full gallop and I lean forward against his warm back, holding on for dear life. The outside lights disappear, the scent of popcorn turning into the sweet smell of pine sap. The golden glow of the carousel is the only thing that remains, illuminating the dark trees that now surround us.
I bury my face in his velvety black coat and squeeze my eyes shut. I stay there until I realize that once again I’m holding cold plastic. The smell of the popcorn comes rushing back and the music is once again in the background. But this time, it’s joined by the screams of delighted children and the shouts of adults chasing after them. I open my eyes and look around me. The carnival is back, but the streets are crowded with people. Each game has a line, the booths are manned with workers shouting for people to come enjoy whatever they’re trying to sell, ring toss, churros, see the carnival from the height of the Ferris wheel! I get off my horse, who is now frozen with its head down and legs stretched out mid-gallop, and walk off the carousel. It lets me leave so I make my way into the crowd. I’m jostled from all directions, everywhere I try to go, someone is there. The screams of the mob pierce my ears, overwhelmed, I try to find a destination. And then I’m hit hard, falling on my knees to the filthy ground. My head feels strange, fuzzy. I shake it, and it’s like a veil is lifted from my mind. I can think clearly again. Between the ankles of passerby, I see a bench with an open spot. Desperately, I crawl towards it, getting kicked along the way. Making it there, I collapse onto it, breathing hard. The crowd rushes by in front of me, unstoppable. Looking next to me, there’s a woman, who looks just like Mrs. Anderson, cradling a sleeping baby in her arms.
“Do you know where we are?” I ask.
She doesn’t respond, just keeps holding her baby, staring into the crowd.
I try again, louder. Again, no response. I guess she doesn’t want to talk to me. Unsure of what to do next, I just sit there watching the crowd too.
Suddenly, a man starts screaming, not out of exhilaration or happiness, a long, high-pitched, bloodcurdling scream that goes on above all of the other noises. Panicked, I glance at the woman sitting next to me, she hasn’t moved, doesn’t seem to notice anything. For that matter, neither does anyone else in the crowd. They all keep moving, laughing, smiling.
Then, as quickly as it started, the screaming stops. I look for the man and can’t find him until the crowd shifts, revealing him lying on the ground. He’s on his back, hands clutched over his chest, whimpering. Someone needs to help him. Chewing on my nails again, I consider the crowd that just beat me up. Just do it, I think before bracing myself and rushing over to kneel beside him.
“Sir, are you alright?”
“Sir?” I reach out to touch his shoulder, but my hand goes through, hitting the ground. I jump back, he didn’t notice anything, his hands are now clawing at his chest, they’ve ripped through his clothes and into his skin, blood pooling on his stomach. I notice an empty hot dog wrapper is visible through his leg, his body is turning translucent. It’s getting worse, the longer I watch, the less I can see him. The ground becomes clearer, him an apparition lying on top of it. He stops moving, the blood still flows but his hands rest limply over his heart, and then, he’s gone.
I stay kneeling there, staring at the spot where he disappeared. There’s no trace that he was there, no blood, no remnants of his clothes.
I push my way back to the bench and sit down. Something drips onto my leg, then it happens again. I look up at the cloudless sky, shining with its multitudes of stars. It’s not raining. Another drop hits, I touch my face, its damp. The realization that I’m crying takes away the rest of my self-control, I’ve been so numb this entire time, so preoccupied, I haven’t thought any of it through, haven’t let it sink in. The strangeness of it all suddenly hits me and I break down sobbing, crying for my not being able to manage simple instructions, crying for the situation I’ve gotten myself into, crying for my once again missing Buddy, crying for the man that just died in front of me-if that’s even what happened to him.
After a while I sit up and look around, wiping my eyes. One perk to being invisible is that no one will see you cry. Or maybe not. A boy is staring at me. He looks about 9 years old with curly dark hair. I stare back, he doesn’t look away.
Getting up, I push my way through the crowd towards where my house should be. But it isn’t there. In its place is a fun home, a cartoonish one with the crazy mirrors.
Someone taps me on the shoulder. “Excuse me.”
It’s the boy. Up close he looks even younger, shorter than me, with bright green eyes and dark circles under them that don’t match his age.
“You shouldn’t be here.” He says.
“You can see me?” I ask.
He nods. “You shouldn’t be here.” He says again, frowning.
“I don’t want to be here.” I respond. He nods again, “Follow me.” and walks towards the fun house. I hesitate for a second, is following a little kid around really going to help me find my way home? But, it’s not like I have a better plan. The back walks past the entrance and around the corner to the back, stopping to look around before opening a door concealed in the brick of the building.
The boy looks at me, “You go in first”
I look at him suspiciously, he stares back, challenging me. I shrug and crawl through the hole. It’s pitch black, my body blocking the light from outside. I fumble along until I fall face forward off a small ledge and onto a soft matt.
“Move so I don’t fall on you.”
I crawl forward, surrounded by blackness and a dense, musty smell. A small thump echoes as the boy drops down, behind me. His eyes glow green, catlike. I glance back at the entrance, there must be some light sneaking in that is hitting them just right. Before I can see anything, a dim lamp flickers on, revealing a tiny room, just large enough to fit a threadbare blanket and a pillow, covered in dirt.
“Do you live here?” I ask.
“Yes.” He says, running his hands over the far wall from the entrance.
“Why? It’s dark.”
“But it’s a great hiding place.”
“Who are you hiding from?
For the first time he smiles, flashing a full set of sharp pointed teeth. I do a double take, but the smile is gone, he found what he was looking for, pushing his fingers into a crevice in the wall, something clicks.
He looks back at me and answers: “The Faeries” before pushing open a door and climbing through.
“The Fairies?” I scoff, staying back. “Fairies don’t exist.”
“Are you sure?”
I stare at him. “You’re rather sarcastic for a kid.”
“Are you coming?”
I go through the door into a long room with high, vaulted ceilings, illuminated by soft, blue light. It reflects off the mirrors that fill the room, each framed in silver, each a different, twisted shape.
“Welcome to the Hall of Mirrors.” He walks around me and closes the door we came through; it disappears into the wall. He turns back to me, eyes once again glowing.
“If this is the fun house, where are all the people?”
“We have a special reservation.”
He smiles again, a grin to put the Cheshire Cat to shame, this time there’s no mistaking the sharpness of his teeth.
I back away, he doesn’t follow, just stands there, creepy smile frozen on his face. Then, slowly, he looks to my right side, focusing on something there. My breath catches. It’s just a mirror. That’s all it could be, just a mirror. I force myself to look, and see my reflection, distorted. I have only one eye, in the middle of my head, like a cyclops, my legs are short and fat. My torso stretches grotesquely, arms larger than the rest of my body, reaching in front of me.
But my arms are at my sides. I look down to make sure, not trusting what I know to be true, what I can feel. My fists are clenched by my hips. I look back up, the arms are even longer, stretching farther and farther, sliding out of the glass, reaching for me. I scream and jump back, only to feel something against my foot. A long, snake-like finger is slithering over it as another twisted version of myself melts out of its frame.
I jerk my foot away with a scream that echoes around the room, not stopping, not fading away. It is soon joined by a cold, high pitched laugh, coming from the boy. Still standing in the same place, mouth open in a grimace pouring out sound.
I take off running, passing mirror after mirror, each releasing a new, creepier me. They chase after, drawing closer and closer, pulling my hair, ripping my clothes. An inverted version of myself stops, holding a scrap from my shirt, sniffing it. I keep going, pushing through their grasps until I reach the door and grab the handle, twisting it. The door creaks open, painfully slow, revealing the rest of the carnival, twinkling in the night. I’m out and closing the door behind me when I’m stopped short by the hand with the snake-like fingers, reaching through the open crack and wrapping itself around my ankle, crawling up my leg. I try to kick it away but its latched on, fingers growing longer and longer, surprisingly strong, but stretchy. I slowly pull my leg back, pulling the hand until it grows thinner, down to the size of a pencil. Once I’m a foot away from the door, I slam it over the hand, crushing it. The grip on my leg relaxes enough for me to wrench myself free and spin around, sprinting into the crowds, pushing my way through back to the carousel. I put my hands over my head and pace back and forth. Breathe, I tell myself, breathe. But I can’t, the air catches in my throat, soon I’m hyperventilating, wishing to be held, for someone to hold, for my missing dog, for my missing house, in my normal world. Memories of the fun house flash through my mind; the distorted images, the iciness of the hand grabbing me, the sound of the boy’s laughter. Oh god, the boy, is he going to follow me? I need to get out before he can find me. I focus on this thought, pushing everything else into the background.
I sit on the curb, breathing slowly, trying to remember what I know about fairies. These obviously aren’t the happy, colorful type seen in Sleeping Beauty. These are the type we learned about in the Myths and Folklore class at my school. It was required that every student take it, something that was often a popular complaint, though I thought it was interesting. I remember that fairies love riddles and tricks. To get into their realm, you have to do one thing, but to get out, you have to do the opposite. I got into this place through my garage and then through riding the horses on the carousel. That’s it, a ride. I look around, there are three other rides in the culs de sac. There’s a spinning tea cup ride, covered in pink and bronze, sparkling as it spins, they always make me throw up. Past it is a Ferris wheel, plain iron and lights reaching high above the rest of the carnival. At the end of the street are miniature cars, each shaped like a gondola, following a circle on their water track, looking at scenes of Venice.
Think, opposite…what makes one different from the rest? I look between the rides with the people rushing over them, everything in the fairy carnival has been intricately, otherworldly beautiful, but the Ferris wheel, the highest point of the carnival, is plain, human. Looking again, I see that it is spinning clockwise. I close my eyes and feel the momentum of the carousel once again, hear the thundering of the horses carrying me around, circling counter-clockwise, opposite. I run to the Ferris Wheel, once more pushing through the crowd, and get into one of the cars. It draws me up, farther and farther. I look out over the carnival, over the crowds with all their noise and movement, over the funhouse, lights flashing ominously, and over the carousel, spinning around, playing its music. Just as I reach the top, I swear I hear a whinny before all goes silent.
Once again, the carnival is abandoned, but at the end of the street, past all the booths and lights, is my house. I get to the ground and start walking back when something hits me hard, my knees buckle, but I manage to stay standing. Looking down, there’s a little brown fur ball, shaking with excitement, stumpy tale going a mile a minute. I bend down and scoop him up. He nestles into my arms, exhausted.
“What have you been up to?” I whisper to Buddy, burying my face in his fur. For a second I feel the stallion’s coat instead and whip my head back up. Buddy looks up at me, wondering why I moved. Then, his head snaps around towards the end of the street. I can make out my parent’s car pulling into the garage. They get out, slamming the car doors and walk into the house. My dad pauses to press the button that closes the door.
My parents are back, that means the solstice is over. Something drops in my stomach. I have the feeling that the garage is the exit back to normalcy and that once it closes, I’ll by stuck. I set Buddy down, he starts sprinting towards my house and I follow behind him. The door is moving down. The gap is getting smaller and smaller. Five feet…four feet…three feet…I dive under, just managing to squeeze through before the door closes. It stays closed. I walk into my house, the lights are on, my parent’s voices come from the kitchen.
“Hey guys.” I say as casually as I can, “How was your solstice?”
“Ah good! I won fifty bucks from John” My dad says before looking at me. His jaw drops, “Dear God, what happened to you?”
My mom looks over too. “Alice! You’re filthy! And what did you do to your clothes, I just bought you those.”
“Oh I just took Buddy out, he really needed to pee since he was inside the whole night. I tripped and fell into some dirt.” I say with a small smile. “I missed you guys.”
My parents exchange a look.
“Alice, you are so clumsy sometimes, what are we going to do with you.” My dad shakes his head.
“We’ll just have to take you with us next time” My mom jokes.
I smile, “I’d like that.”