I’m crawling into my closet. It’s not a walk-in but there is room to the left where my small body can fit. My clothes are hanging above me, among them is my favorite sweatshirt and the red silk dress I wore once to my aunt’s wedding. It’s so dark in the closet I can barely see in front of me, but I keep crawling. Underneath my hands and knees are little pebbles- the ones that come off my shoes every time I toss them in there.
I like adventures. Where I live on the wealthy side of Cranston, Rhode Island, there isn’t much room to adventure. Looking at my street, each house has vinyl siding that and consists of two floors, the top floor for bedrooms and the bottom floor for the kitchen, living room, and dining room. Everybody’s lawn is freshly cut and their gardens are filled with brightly colored tulips, roses, azaleas, petunias- even mine. Everybody pays the most expensive companies to come and cut their grass every two weeks as to compete with their neighbors and impress outsiders- it’s a way of showing how much wealthier one family is than the one next door. Sometimes the ice cream truck will play its friendly tune through the neighborhood and all of the children run inside to beg for their parents’ money. Within mere seconds they return outside clenching their parents’ hands, rushing, as if not to miss the ice cream man.
Down the street is my favorite place to adventure. At the entrance I see “No Trespassing- Private Property.” I ignore the sign. Ahead is a dirt road, along it are overgrown weeds that brush against my ankles as I walk through. Hidden in the weeds are thorns sharper than the tacs I sometimes drop on the floor of my room and inevitably step on. As I walk, the thorns continue to scrape up my ankles, leaving the rims of my socks covered in blood. When I return home after each trip I have to remember to hide my socks in a secret pile so my mom doesn’t find them when she does my laundry.
I venture off the road down a steep hill that leads under the run-down bridge. It doesn’t seem safe for cars to go over, but they do. Underneath is a small river. In the winter it freezes and I can slide along the ice in my boots, only occasionally breaking through and soaking my shoes and pants in water. In the summer, there are animals and insects hiding in the crevices- under rocks, behind trees, and in the water. Somebody seems to have perfectly placed rocks in a line going across the river to the other side of the land. Close by is a waterfall thundering down over the rocks underneath. It’s a light roaring in the background, not loud enough to drown out the sounds of the chirping birds overhead or the frogs croaking down the stream.
If I stay long enough, a car or two will drive over the bridge so I have to duck behind the nearest tree and hope they don’t see me. They all drive muddy trucks, much different than the shiny SUV’s that sit in the driveways of my neighbors. If I test my luck and keep walking along the road, I find a house with small broken down sheds scattered throughout the yard. The main house looks abandoned, but surely it isn’t. There are three vehicles currently in the driveway, one red F-150 with dents all along the right side and a missing hub cap. Another car I can’t make out the brand, but its small. It’s a typical white car one might find in a poor neighborhood. The back side is covered with bumper stickers ranging from big blaring words that read “Don’t blame me, I voted Republican” to a bright yellow smiley-face with its middle finger raised. The last car doesn’t fit in with the rest. Electric blue blinds my eyes as I stand in awe. It’s a Jeep Wrangler, but doesn’t look like it has ever been taken off the main roads. From this I can imagine the type of person who drives it- a young man who prefers to never wear a shirt, even in October when the temperature is starting to drop. He probably wakeboards and maybe even surfs when he’s not busy driving girls around in his Jeep.
When the sun starts to set I know I have to go home so I don’t miss dinner with my family. Their idea of an adventure is taking a day trip to the three local supermarkets and getting free samples at each one.
Along my walk I pass a park with three baseball fields and two soccer fields. Right now there is a little league baseball game going on. The parents are in the stands cheering on their children while the players are chanting in the dugout but I am unable to make out what they are saying, but I imagine it’s something along the lines of “Let’s go Mikey!” (that seems like a common name of a little league baseball player, right?)
I finally enter my house and instantly recognize the smell of red sauce and meatballs- the staple dinner of an Italian family. Nobody greets me as I walk in, all too invested in watching the Boston Red Sox training camp clips on the flat screen T.V. in the livingroom. When the pasta is finished cooking we all sit around our rectangular table and prepare to read a page from the Bible. Nobody in my family is really religious, we don’t even attend church on Sundays. We never question my mother’s motives so this is a tradition we have had going for as long as I can remember. During dinner my father asks me questions such as “Did you learn anything in school today?” and “How is your friend Emily doing?” I can’t tell him that I skipped school for the second time this week to go exploring- and it’s only the first month of school. Being trapped in this house, in that school, in the limiting city of Cranston drives me crazy. Every night I lie in bed dreaming of the day I can leave.
When I get to the back of the closet, I find a small door I had never seen before. It’s made of wood and has a small, cold metal lock that seems as if it had been broken apart. This seems like an invitation to come in. Cautiously, I open up the door and gaze inside. I feel blind as I gaze into the darkness. I have no idea what awaits me, but I can hear voices echoing from a distance. I slowly step inside, wondering if it’s too late to turn back. Curiosity killed the cat, they say.
I enter the room and immediately recognize that I’m in a basement. From the outside it looked dark, but as I begin to stand up I see that the center of the room is dimly lit. My eyes start to adjust to the darkness around me and I can see how far the walls run on each side of me. It is bigger than any basement I had ever been in, but is almost completely empty- aside from my family members sitting on folding chairs in a small circle. There is a light bulb hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the circle. When they notice me standing in the doorway, they simultaneously turn their heads to look at me. The silence in the room was deafening, but yet it wasn’t completely silent. I can hear the water dripping through the pipes, the creaking in the walls, and someone tapping their foot, but everything else seems to have paused. I finally come out of my daze and frantically look around. The door I entered through has disappeared and in its place is concrete that matches the rest of the wall. The paint on the wall is bright white, as if it was recently painted. I take in a deep breath but instead of the smell of fresh paint, I smell perfume. Definitely not the dingy scent of a typical unfinished basement. This seems a bit odd, considering I did just walk into a basement, right? I look around to see if there’s anything strange lying around, but the floor is completely empty. I switch my gaze over to the center of the room where my family is, and notice that they have returned to speaking to each other in barely audible tones.
Realizing that I should probably move from the one spot I’ve been standing, I start to follow the wall to the left. I keep my left hand on the wall, hoping to feel another door behind the concrete. Eventually I start to give up hope, about to walk back to my mysterious family, when I stumble on something. I look down and there is a handle connected to a square wooden door. I’m not sure how I didn’t notice it before, seeing as how the rest of the floor is concrete. I don’t immediately feel an oddness about the door, just a mere wonder of what lies underneath. I realize that I am here for a reason- this door exists simply for me to open it. I pull on the handle until the door is open wide enough for me to peer in. Flimsy wooden stairs begin appear before me as I open the door. I’m hesitant to walk down but figure that at this point I have no other options. When I am about halfway down the stairs, an overhead light turns on. I assume that it must be an automatic light that sensed my movement, and the thought escapes my mind.
Then I woke up.
I rose from bed and got ready in a daze, feeling as if I hadn’t slept at all. I count that had gotten seven and a half hours of uninterrupted sleep, an hour more than I usually get so I don’t know why I feel as if my eyelids are being held down by weights. I begin my daily routine by eating one bowl of Frosted Flakes, my favorite. As usual, there’s leftover milk so I pour myself a little extra cereal.
After I finish, I go upstairs to take a shower. In the other room I hear rustling, my younger sisters must have just woken up. They’re like me, uninterested in our mundane household. Being younger, however, they use their imaginations to escape to another world. They rush to get ready, completely skipping over brushing their teeth so that they can play with their matchbox cars.
Lying in a duffel bag, there is a car for every color in the rainbow. Their favorite is a silver convertible with blue doors that lift up. Mixed in is a police car with its paint chipping off, a hot pink racing car, and a red pickup truck that looks older than the rest of the cars. They hurriedly take the bag out of the closet and pick out each car one by one. They line them up as far as they have time for. The line stretches from the far end of the living room, all the way down the hallway and then loops back around. Usually, when they have more time, they move each car up a space, inching the line forward one and a half inches each time. They call this “traffic”. They are immersed in a fake world that is believed to be true. Maybe they are dreaming of the world outside this house- just as I am- or maybe they just think it’s exciting to move cars through the house at a painstakingly slow pace.
My morning continues without any excitement, that is until I go into my closet to pick out clothes for the day. When I look into the back to grab my sweatshirt, I have a flashback to the night before.
At first I just remember part of the dream, that I had walked through a trapdoor into this strange room. As the day goes on, I remember more and more of the dream, but like most dreams, it had a fantasy feeling to it. I dream a lot so I didn’t think anything more of this one in particular.
I walk into my first class of the day to find that there is a new teacher standing at the front of the classroom. I walk in and quickly make my way to my seat in the back of the class. I didn’t pick it, it’s just what happens when every teacher sorts the class by alphabetical order and your last name begins with a Z. The rest of my classmates come filing in, but nobody even looks in my direction. The instant people notice that our normal teacher isn’t there they all have the same reactions.
“Bro, sit next to me today!”
I silently watch as everybody sits in a different seat than usual, nobody joining me in the back, much to my excitement. It’s not that I’m an unlikable person, I just never took the time to get to know anyone at this school. I plan to move away as soon as I graduate in just two hundred forty one days eight hours and fifty seven minutes. Not that I’m counting. My mother and father expect me to go to college, my teachers expect me to go to college, and I’ve been getting letters inviting me to apply to college since the middle of tenth grade. I only plan to apply to one school- Stanford. There’s no better adventure than a train ride across America to a school where dreams come true. So I never made friends. Sure, I could sit next to the nice girl in all my classes, Marissa, or I could join a sports team, but that would only make it harder to leave.
“I’ll be taking this class over indefinitely,” starts the professor “so I expect you to continue to take this class seriously.”
He shouts the first name on the attendance list and I daze off, knowing my name won’t be called until the end. Suddenly I’m back in that room, looking at my family in the circle. It doesn’t make any sense that they’re just sitting around a lightbulb watching me, but I just keep staring back. I’m unable to move, my feet being weighed down by bricks. Everything is stopped-
I visibly jump in my seat. “Here” I croak.
“Please open your textbooks to the chapter on caching and read to yourselves the first page.”
While the two girls in front of me start scrolling through twitter on their matching iPhones, I start to wonder where Mr. Anderson was. Maybe home sick, but he seemed healthy in class the day before, so my mind drifts to other possibilities. Realistically, he probably caught an overnight bug or perhaps one of his children got sick. I start to think back to my dream and try to connect the symbols to possible meanings. I have a small, but thick, blue book on my bookshelf at home that lists every dream symbol a person could probably think of, with its possible meaning right next to it. I refer back to this often, so I have a handful of symbols implanted in my brain.
Most importantly, I wonder about my family. I’ve learned that the context of the dream can change its meaning. In this case, my family members aren’t acting like themselves. It is as if they are different people, just disguised in their familiar bodies. According to my book, dreams such as this symbolize a desire to distance oneself from the family, or indicate a confusion regarding where they are coming from.
The bell rings and I suddenly realize that I missed the entire second half of the class. I rise from my seat and vow to forget about the dream until I get home.
Weeks go by and my Computer Science teacher still hasn’t returned. We haven’t been told any new information, other than the fact that he probably won’t be back anytime soon.
At home, I have distanced myself from my family. Ever since my dream about the basement I haven’t been able to look at them the same way. They don’t notice though, as long as I join them for dinner each night of the week and breakfast on the weekends, they’ll just assume I’m being a “normal teenager” and let me lock myself in my room.
I’m in a familiar place- a basement. I think I’m supposed to walk to the left, but I don’t know why. My feet pull me in the right direction before I even have time to process where I am. I find a door on the floor and begin to lift it up, having no control over my hands. I dip down under the door and find myself on a set of stairs. Finally gaining control of my body, I take slow steps down the stairs. I hear a song playing faintly in the distance, the voice unfamiliar to me, even though it sounds like a cheesy pop song that would be overplayed on the radio.
At the bottom of the stairs I look around, suddenly I’m in a much different room. Unlike the cold, cement basement I had just come from, this room was warm. I could feel the heat radiating from somewhere nearby. I notice a feathery feeling underneath my feet- I look down and there’s a fluffy sky blue rug covering a small section of the wood floor. At eye level I see a bed that clearly belongs to a young girl, maybe even one my own age. The comforter is carefully tucked into the sides of the bed with a display of pillows that will probably never be slept on. There’s a canopy hanging over the bed, reminding me of the royal bed of a princess. All around the room are shelves with trinkets and picture frames. I walk across the room to get a better look at one of the pictures when suddenly I hear a bang from behind me. I quickly jerk my head back to see what it was and see a girl standing in the doorway.
It’s me, but happy. She’s wearing her hair in pigtails with purple hair elastics holding them in place. On her legs are white knee socks with frills across the top. Over these socks is a pink-orange-yellow-white floral skirt and a white blouse. She looks excited to see me, which is weird because she just caught me looking through her room. But wait, she’s me! But I would never dress this way and my room has dark blue walls with a black and white comforter. I haven’t made my bed in years. The only similarity is the wood floor.
“Hello!” she squeaked, alerting me that I have been staring at her clothes since she walked in.
“You’re… me” I ask, with a mix of confusion and fear in my voice.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of, Cara, this is our new room!”
“What do you mean ‘our room?’ I have a room back home right up those stairs and through the door where my family is watching baseball. I can go back any time.”
“Follow me” she says confidently.
I shoot up in bed, barely able to breathe, as if I just finished running a marathon. My heart feels like it’s going to beat right out of my chest. I glance over at the clock and it reads ‘4:06’ just enough time for me to fall back asleep for almost two more hours.
When my alarm goes off at six that morning, I am disappointed that I never returned back to dreamland. I’m wishing to go back soon, to find out why there’s another me and what she wanted to show me.
Later that day in school I have Computer Science last period. Staring at the floor as I walk in the room, I almost run into someone. When I look up, it’s Mr. Anderson. His hair is now down to his chin and flying in all different directions, as if it hadn’t been brushed, ever. There are circles under his eyes dark as the deepest part of my closet. His button-up shirt isn’t fully tucked into his pants and he’s missing a belt. I estimate that he’s put on around twenty pounds, but I never paid much attention to his weight before so I could be making it up.
The class begins as usual with roll call and I wait patiently in the back for him to call all of the names before mine. We all silence afterwards, expecting him to explain his absence, but instead he tells us to turn to page two hundred and twenty one. On this page is an instruction manual on how to control an entire system through a computer. This peeks an interest in everybody, we’ve all read futuristic novels and watched movies and wish to be able to do what they do, so the entire class stops talking to listen to the teacher.
I’m back in my-her-our room and she’s holding my hand. Toward the stairs we go, but I don’t see the door there anymore. What used to be a wooden square panel is now just a solid ceiling, but before I can ask where we are going, the door appears again. The steps creak as we walk up them, I should be worried that they’re going to fall apart beneath my feet, but instead all I can think about is what I’m going to find past this door.
In no time, she’s lifting up the door and peering out into what should be the basement. Still holding my hand, she takes the final steps up and out of the bedroom. Following closely behind, I recognize the smell of the perfume. Beneath my feet I once again feel the cold concrete, and I know I’m back in the basement. After being in the brightly lit bedroom, I am blinded by darkness. Still holding my hand, we’re walking forward slowly into the darkness.
As my eyes adjust to the room, the light coming from the center slowly appears again. Walking closer and closer, the light seems to get brighter. Suddenly, we’re standing right in front of it. In front of me is an empty chair. Other me releases my hand from her grasp and points to the empty chair. With hesitation, I sit down.
Sitting across from me is my mom, she’s smiling. To her left are my two sisters and to the right is my father. These are the only people who were here last time, but now I notice an extra chair. Sitting to my right is Mr. Anderson, except he doesn’t look like the Mr. Anderson I saw in class today. Here, he has his hair gelled back, his shirt is neatly tucked into his pants, and he looks thinner. On his wrist I notice a watch. I try to make out the time but the minute hand is spinning too fast- time is flying.
They all have huge smiles on their faces, as if they know an exciting secret that I haven’t heard yet. Behind me, I hear a door slam. I look back and see that other me is gone. Not only is she gone, but the door has disappeared as well. Weird, I thought. I turn my attention back to the group, but now I’m seeing something different.
All of their faces have started to peel off, revealing a metal surface. There’s smoke coming out of their chests and their eyes are all transfixed on the ceiling. Before I can even process what is happening, my dad’s chest explodes, revealing a computer screen. In green letters it reads ‘Game Over’ and then turns off. His chin drops to his chest, that is now smoking more than before. Eventually, all five of them have displayed the same message.
I realize that I’m now all alone, in this basement that might go for miles. I check to see if the door to other me’s bedroom has reappeared, but to my dismay, it is still gone. I stand up from my chair and try to find a way out. The door to my real bedroom hadn’t came back since the first time I came in, and I had no hope that it ever world. In a panic I race past the circle of chairs and just keep running.
I run until I’m out of breath and can’t feel my legs anymore. I start to think I’m going to die here- there’s no food or water and the air has started to feel dry. All I can think about is getting water in my mouth and feeling it drip down my throat. I sink down back against the wall to contemplate my situation. I put my hands against my face and lean my elbows on my knees. My hands feel clammy and sweaty, I decide to lick the sweat off in hopes of lasting a little longer down here before dying of dehydration.
As I’m about to lick my hand, the overhead light turns on. The light illuminates the room and I can’t see anything again. After a few minutes my eyes adjusted to the bright light and I am able to look around. To my surprise, I am right near the circle of chairs. I can see the walls in each direction, no bigger than my basement at home. I notice a door just twenty feet to the left. I hurry to get up but my legs are weak and they fail me.
I push myself up with my hands and then grip onto the wall. Before I can make it to the door, I hear a voice. It’s human- not computer- generated.
“Thank you for participating in Phase One of our experiment. We expect to see you back soon”
I run over to the door to open it. It opens with ease and I’m back in my closet. I run into my parents room and see them sound asleep, my sisters too. I breathe a sigh of relief and drag myself back to bed.
I awake in the morning refreshed, and remember my dream. I was in a field, riding unicorns…