Pratchett, author of the Discworld books, once wrote that the bricks of childhood are the stories of the bogeyman, the monsters under the bed, the scissorman, and all the creatures our elders have ...
Nabokov had it right. Childhood is not really a time, but more of a place, an island surrounded by mist. Curiously, people have an erroneous impression that it is occupied by fairies, rainbows and princesses.
There are no such things in the isle of Childhood. If it had been occupied by such things, however, it would still not be as one imagines it. While fairies would have indeed been waiting to play with little children, they would have not played nice; rainbows would have indeed led to something, but not to a pot of gold; princesses would have been undoubtedly beautiful, but remember never to trust your eyes. We all forget what it was like.
One night, however--fortunately or unfortunately, I leave for you to decide--I was allowed to visit this enchanted place once more; held by hand by my little niece, two years old with curly hair and shining eyes, in a dream that had to do with the little door.
The little door. It was a curious anomaly that the house my sister owned, a demure house that sat on a quiet street and a quiet neighborhood, had an architectural eccentricity. At the top of this little demure house, up the stairs where the sloping ceilings made charming attic rooms, there was this quaint, tiny room with one window, where the morning light shone through green, gauzy windows, a wooden table and chair pushed up against this window, and on either side, tucked into the moss green walls that halfway sloped up into the ceiling, were two beds with flowered spreads and pastel pillows, and a book case at the foot of each bed. If you opened the door into the room, there was a very nice symmetry, indeed, for the entrance made one straight line across with the window, so you could see the whole room spread out just so. There was, however, one door to your right, one you would not immediately see because it is set on the same side as the entrance. It is the closet, and if you open this little closet and pushed aside the moth-eaten coats to the right, you would see on the left side that there was the little door.
Why, if you opened this little door, no more than three feet tall, you would see the strangest little space. Inside, there is a closed corridor. It is big enough for an adult to walk through on his knees, but clearly, it is meant for the adventure of little ones. To be used as a place to hide your booty as a pirate or play exploring the caves or whatever else your imagination could come up with. I opened it once and never opened it again.
I slept in this little room once, and I slept on the bed that was on the same side as the closet, and one night that I dreamed, I dreamed I was waking up, slowly and lazily, with the light gray with rain and shadows playing in the corners of the room. In the dream where I was waking up in this twilight world, all the doors had been open and I saw the most terrifying sight in my waking or sleeping days: my little niece skipping into the gloom of the closet.
I bolted upright. It was a dream, but by this time, I had forgotten this, and I hurriedly stood up and took the night lamp that stood on my desk. It was plugged into an extension cord that had been much longer than what I needed and I was sure it would reach across the room into the closet, into the corridor of that little door, even. I flicked it open and followed my niece into the closet, into the little door.
It was not a closed corridor, anymore. It went on and on and on, its end shadowed. I looked to the other end, and it went on and on and on, its end shadowed. I started to walk, hunched over, calling my niece's name. And I walked and the corridor never ended. And whenever I turned to look back, the white cord of the lamp glowed in the darkness, like bread crumbs that you could follow back out of the woods. It seemed even the cord gained infinity.
Old people say that when the fairies start playing tricks on travelers and they start walking in circles, travelers turn something that they are wearing inside out. So, I laid my lamp down and turned my shirt inside out, and the illusion left me.
I gasped, because behind me was my niece. I turned in place quickly and gathered up my niece, hugging her tightly.
"Auntie," she said very softly. She was not hugging me back. But her hand was clenched around a fistful of my shirt. And I realized she was looking over my shoulder. She was looking at something behind me.
A curious hissing and rattling rose behind me. I slowly turned back; and I saw that my niece and I were on one end of the little corridor and something else crouched at the shadowed other end. In between, was the little door.
The hissing rattling rose from the end again, and in the silent dark of the corridor, it sounded very, very loud. I lifted my lamp and I saw a woman in white. It was on all fours, and the thing raised itself, thick, black hair swinging over its face as it moved like a broken puppet, stop-motion jerky. Unnaturally.
The little door to the outside was between us, in the middle of the little corridor. And somehow, I knew, I knew with my whole heart, that for every step I would take to that door, it would take a step toward us, as well.
I ran, and the thing began to crawl in its broken puppet way and I felt a scream trying to tear its way out of my throat as the thing moved nearer and nearer, moving faster in its broken puppet way, with grimy dress and black hair swinging. white dress catching dust bunnies please god don't let me see its face stop motion like it had broken bones crawling faster grimy arm inexorably pulling itself one after another nearer hair swingingrattlinghissingitswaytous.
I threw the lamp with the scream rising, and pushed my niece through sideways. I followed and something pulled at my hair. It had caught my hair, pulling itself up as an arm snaked around my waist, and its hot breath rattled and hissed past my ear. And I began to scream in earnest.
Pushed up against the window with green, gauzy windows where the light shines through in the morning is a wooden table and chair. There is a missing lamp, a vase of dried flowers and a can of sharpened pencils.
The little girl shot out of the closet, looked around, ran across the room, up the chair, on the table. She took a pencil and ran all the way back to the closet.
My little niece stabbed at the thing's eye.
Firmly and with no hesitation whatsoever, she put the sharpened pencil through the one eye of the thing whose face had kindly presented itself over my shoulder.
It fell back with an inhuman scream shrilly echoing in the little corridor. I slammed the little door shut, picked up my niece and ran down to...
...awakening. And I saw my little niece's face above, smiling impishly with her sunshine bright eyes. "Auntie," she giggled, running out of the room. I sat up, suspiciously looking at the closet door for a moment. Then I shrugged and swung my legs over to the side and saw the table. I was missing my lamp. And a pencil.