by Cindy Powers
“I wish we’d never stepped foot in this old house.”
“You wanted to come here.”
“Well, it’s supposed to be, you know, special.”
Jess looked around the parlor room, arms folded. Paint peeling, graffiti, holes in the walls. Jess was my best friend since forever. It hadn’t mattered that she’d grown beautiful and popular while I’d stayed mousy and quiet. We were still inseparable.
She was walking around, exploring. We were still in our school uniforms and her plaid skirt was on the short side. I took in her long legs as she stepped lightly. I liked looking at her. She stopped in front of a large painting of a strange landscape, all jagged rocks and threatening-looking grey and black sky. On the far left was a small lone tree, stripped of its leaves, showing skeletal branches, dwarfed by everything else. In the distance was a dark grey sea with turbulent white capped waves.
Oddly enough, this painting hadn’t been damaged or tagged with spray paint.
“Yeah, real depressing.” I tilted my head. “It’s the kind of thing you paint just before you kill yourself.”
I smirked. “Sorry, I couldn’t resist, but it does kind of look like that.”
Jess frowned. “I guess so.”
Even though we were in 8th grade, boys from high school had been paying attention to her. I couldn’t blame them. Even standing in a broken down old room in a broken down old house, she seemed to glow.
“Do you think it’s true? What he said?”
I frowned. I knew who she was talking about but didn’t want to say his name.
“What who said?”
“Robbie. Robbie Reed.” She looked at me with that familiar exasperated expression. “I swear, Becca, you forget everything.”
“Sorry.” I shrugged.
She moved to the vast spiral staircase which looked like it went on forever and looked up. “Think it’s there?”
“The room, Becca!”
I felt my stomach do a little flip. “Is that why we’re here?”
“Did the dose on your meds change again?”
I shook my head. “I’m not really taking those anymore. Could be why I’m being sort of forgetful.”
“Oh right, body has to adjust.”
I nodded absently. It was true that this was a side effect of going off my meds but in truth, I feigned forgetfulness when it suited me.
She smiled. “I’m just…curious about it. The room. I mean, it’s just a story but since we’re here…” She bounded up the stairs, blonde ponytail bouncing. I shook my head and followed her.
Jess was moving quickly down the long, dark moldy carpeted hallways of the fourth floor. She turned right, then left and broke into a run down a hallway with wood floors. “Wait! Where are we going? Jess!” I ran down the hallway until she jumped out at me when I went around a corner.
I yelped. “Stop IT! Why did you do that?” Her shimmering laugh echoed down the lonely hallways.
“Did you know what Robbie Reed said? He said the room was special and if it wanted to be found, I’d find it right away. It’s the only room with a black door.”
“Robbie Reed was trying to impress you. He probably couldn’t believe you asked him about it,” I said, cross. “And he’s a weirdo. If he’d found the room, why is he still weird?”
“Maybe he was even weirder before?” Even in the semi-dark I could see her pale blue eyes. I cracked a smile and we were both doubled over laughing.
We moved on. If we’d been eight or nine years old, we’d be holding hands, I was sure of it. Instead, I followed her at a more reasonable pace. She stopped towards the end of the hallway and put her hand on a door. She looked at me, eyes wide.
“Jess, that’s not black door.”
“But, Robbie said you could find it by intuition only.”
“Robbie Reed was pulling your leg! And since when are you on first name basis with him?” Irritation flared in my chest.
“Why are you in such a bad mood?”
I looked away from her. The irritation was starting to turn toxic and I knew it. I had to calm down.
“Becca.” Her voice had that low, sweet quality I would die for. I closed my eyes. She stepped into my arms easily. The familiar longing coursed through me and I relaxed.
“You’re so pretty. You say you aren’t but you’re the most pretty girl I know,” she said into my hair.
“As long as you think so,” I murmured into her shoulder. I really liked that she was taller than me. I stayed still, hoping.
Jess pulled back slightly and then kissed me. I let out a sigh as she held me tighter. She tasted sweet, almost like apples, and her lips were tender soft.
She pulled away, pale blue eyes getting darker. It was the longest we’d kissed so far.
“Are you…really going to the movies with Robbie Reed?” I asked. I was having a hard time catching my breath.
“No. I don’t want to go anywhere with anyone but you.”
We pressed our foreheads together. I closed my eyes.
“Did you hear me, Becca? There’s no one else. Ever.”
I opened my eyes and placed a soft kiss on her smooth cheek.
“You believe me?” she said.
“Good.” She stepped away. Though we’d pulled apart, we were still holding hands. She pushed open the door.
There was a long hallway and at the end was a black door.
“There it is!” She took off down the hall, golden ponytail swinging, long legs covering more ground than I could ever. I ran after her but she seemed to be getting farther away. We ran on and then the lights went out.
She let out a scream and I collided into her. I thought I was farther away than that.
“Are you okay?” I said, reaching out to her.
“Yeah, but how did the lights go out?”
They came on again, startling both of us. “Well, that’s a relief,” she said.
“Jess.” I gestured at the end of the hallway. She let out a cry.
The black door was gone. In its place was a blank wall.
“But…how did that happen?”
“I don’t know. Really weird.”
She shuddered. “But I need to find the room, Becca!” She grabbed me by the shoulders. “I HAVE TO!!!”
She was getting overexcited. I gently touched her cheek with the back of my hand. “It’s going to be alright. Just tell me what we need to do next. Take a deep breath.”
She did as I suggested and I could feel her anxiety starting to dissipate.
“We need to get out of this hallway.” Her voice was flat.
“Okay.” I took her hand and led the way back the way we came. When we went through the door, her grip on my hand relaxed. We rounded a corner and walked down the hallway together. I squeezed her hand occasionally so she knew I was still paying attention. After what seemed to be a while, she stopped in front of another door.
The doors here seemed to be too close together. There was no way they could be rooms unless they were all really narrow. Jess placed her hand on the door then nodded to herself and opened it.
It was long staircase. It looked like I couldn’t see the end of it. I took a deep breath and started to climb.
After what felt like a long time, we finally made it to the top. My leg muscles were screaming. Jess was doing better but was still winded. We said nothing, trying to catch our breath. I was leaned over, rubbing my thighs when Jess grabbed my arm. I looked up and went still.
A single door stood a few steps away. It was painted black.
“It must be,” she whispered. “Becca, can you believe it? We would have never found it. It wanted me to come here!”
There was a cold feeling creeping up my back. I shivered.
“What’s the matter?” she said.
“Nothing. Just a little weird, don’t you think?”
“I suppose but we have to go inside, right? I mean, I found it.”
Before I could stop her, Jess put her hand on the doorknob and turned it.
“JESSS!!!!!” I screamed as loud as I could and shook her but she wasn’t moving. The hard wooden stair was unyielding against my lower back. I put my arms around her, leaning my head on her shoulder like we sometimes did when we were reading together. “Jess, please wake up. Please. Don’t leave me alone!” Hard, ravaging tears streaked down my face.
She was limp as a doll, eyes wide open. She didn’t look scared or angry or anything. She was just blank faced. I cried harder, unable to do anything. I couldn’t leave her here and try to find my way out and she was too heavy for me to carry. “Please wake up, Jessie. I can’t–I can’t get you out of here unless you wake up.”
I cried for a long time. So long that it grew darker in the stairwell. There was a small skylight above us so there was still some light left. I should have been scared to be inside that old house but all I cared about was my love. My crying slowed down and I sat with her leaned against me. I didn’t know what to do so I did nothing.
Time passed until I heard something on the stairs. I gripped her tightly and wiped my eyes.
Someone was climbing the stairs. A woman. I could hear her swishing skirts.
As she grew closer, I couldn’t breathe. I shut my eyes tight. She stopped in front of us.
“Ah, Becca, you did as I asked. You brought me what I wanted.”
My eyes flew open and I screamed.
In end, I had to leave her even though she begged me not to. I could hear her last echoing cries as I ran down the stairs. The dark was everywhere but for some reason, I could still see everything.
When her light was fading, I knew there was only one thing to do but when I looked back at the top of the stairs, the black door was gone so I pulled away, making a promise. “Just this once. After that, I will never ever leave again.”
I ran, trying to relax. I needed to find that damn door again. I started by running down the long hallway, frantically trying every door until I remembered that the door comes to you so I stood still in the hallway, waiting.
The woman again. Swishing skirts. Behind me. “Don’t turn around, don’t look,” she said. Her voice was cold and gravely.
“I did what you asked. I brought you Robbie Reed. Now you owe me,” I said. I bit my lip and then turned to face her. “You owe me.”
The horrid apparition smiled at me, all torn grey skin with visible white skull here and there. “Brave girl. It’s admirable that you’re willing to look.”
“I want that room. Bring it to me,” I said evenly.
She tilted her head. “All right, but remember you asked for it.” She reached out a long skeletal arm and opened one of the doors. In the dim light beyond I could see Robbie Reed hanging from chains in the room. He kicked feebly, calling my name.
“He’s still alive.”
“Don’t worry, he won’t be after a while,” she promised.
“Good. Now you. Keep your end of the bargain.”
“Be careful what you wish for. The price is very very high.” She rubbed the exposed bones of her fingers together, making an unnatural scraping sound.
“I don’t need a reminder,” I stared down the awfulness in front of me until I blinked and she was gone. I turned to my right and the entire hallway was empty except the black door in front of me. “From now on, I will never ever leave you. Nothing will separate us. Not death, Heaven, Hell. Nothing,” I said out loud. I opened the door.
They found us the next day. I don’t remember how I got downstairs but they found me in the entry hallway. I managed to tell them where she was. They found her in the fourth floor hallway and brought her to me.
She was still blank and still but at least she was finally mine.
Our days are filled with a predictable routine. I’m familiar with hospital routines. We take walks together in the garden, sometimes we have tea using paper cups. I talk to my therapist and tell him things he wants to hear, things he thinks he should be hearing. They won’t let her come with me to these appointments so she waits outside.
When I come out, she’s usually looking at the suicide painting, as we call it. The lone skeletal, small tree, the craggy grey and black rocks and sky, and the faraway white capped sea. She likes that painting. “Did he adjust your meds again?” She always asks me that, a note of anxiety in her voice.
He occasionally does but she doesn’t have to worry. They can’t do anything now.
Late at night, we whisper in the dark together. The hospital bed is a bit small for the two of us but we’re able to manage. We giggle and talk about our day. Her pale blue eyes shine in the dark and sometimes she sings to me in that shimmering voice. We hold hands and she tells me she will never leave me.