[What’s behind the door? Why is it closed?]
Annie’s excitement built up until she thought she would explode as she pushed open the door to her new home. It was modeled to look like it was plucked straight out of the Victorian era with its fancy floor layout which made it look like a miniature castle. If the outside looked this cool, Annie thought, then what would the interior be like?
She soon had her answer as she left her parents behind, running through the halls with eyes gleaming in wonder. The walls, covered in interesting patterns and paintings, the furniture, antique, and most importantly…so many rooms! Annie thought that hours flew by as she ran from one room to the other, then back again, exploring every inch of the house left behind by her great aunt whom she’d only met once before she passed away.
After a while of taking in the sights, Annie plopped herself down on a plump couch, processing all the information she just absorbed. She even contemplated taking a nap…until she remembered that there was a second and third floor she had yet to explore! Annie jumped to her feet and bolted to where she thought she might have seen a stairwell.
Once on the second floor, Annie decided to slow her adventure down just a bit, walking instead of running and spending more time in each room. After all, she had to savor the excitement while it lasted; there would come a time when she got used to living there.
At some point while passing the rooms she already investigated, Annie noticed something odd. There appeared to be a door where she previously thought none were. Even stranger, the door in question was a work of art! Covering it were unique patterns made from various flowers she’d never seen before, and embedded in its frame were even what appeared to be jewels! How fancy!
Annie found herself about to charge through the poor door, curiosity burning her insides, but she held, remembering to savor the moment. Slowly, she put a hand to the cold, golden doorknob and turned it. Before even walking inside, Annie chose to peak into the room through the crack she created, wondering if doing so would be more thrilling.
Evidently, it was not, because the room had no windows and thus, no light. She caught the glimpses of a few sparkles, but nothing more. No longer holding back, Annie pushed the door open to search inside for a light switch. However, unexpectedly, the door closed behind her, leaving her alone in a dark room with no sign of a light!
But Annie was already ten years old and knew not to panic. She simply felt around the wall next to the door until she found the switch, then flicked it! Instantly, the room became a theater of light as the rays coming from the bulb overhead reflected off of every surface! The floor and walls were beautifully tiled with more flower patterns, the sink appeared to be made from shiny black marble, and the porcelain bathtub just exuded fanciness!
Annie jumped up and down at the scene, giggling to herself. For such a cool bathroom to be hers…she just couldn’t wait until bath time! But alas, she had no choice in the matter. She would have to wait until nightfall to take a bath and the sun had only risen a few hours prior.
Slightly disappointed, Annie forwent her expedition to the third floor and made her way back downstairs to her parents, wondering if they carried any snacks. But, through a window in the living room, Annie saw a most awesome sight: a tire swing!
Her hunger seemed to abandon her the instant her eyes rested upon the fun-looking contraption outside and she made a break for it, leaving her parents confused and amused. Once at the tire swing, Annie stood before it for a minute, basking in its glory. The black rubber tire hung from a long rope attached to a branch waaaay above Annie’s head on one of the largest trees she’d ever seen. The sight was mesmerizing. When she managed to lift herself onto the tire, she felt as though in a dream as the cool autumn breeze caressed her face while she gently swung back and forth, in peace.
She never had anything like a tire swing back in the city. Heck, Annie didn’t remember many times when being outside was fun, because car exhaust always ruined the experience. But now…she was free.
Or at least until something else caught her attention. As Annie gently swung on the tire, she happened to look away from her marvelous home and toward the forest not far away. She hadn’t seen it when she arrived, but between some trees laid a cobblestone trail that led into woods. Immediately, Annie’s sense of adventure reawakened within her. Exploring the house was amazing and all, but exploring wilderness was a whole ‘nother level of exhilarating.
Annie contemplated telling her parents of her intentions, but…would they let her go into the dark, scary woods alone? She completely ignored her superiors and jumped off the swing, heading toward that cobblestone path.
Once there, she peered into the woods, but saw nothing besides countless trees before the path took a winding turn, obscuring what lied ahead. But before taking the final step onto the cobblestone, she glanced back at the house, a hesitant look in her eyes…planning how long she’d be gone so as to get into the least trouble when she got back!
Determining twenty minutes to be okay before her parents worried too much, Annie happily skipped down the trail, even whistling a happy little tune as she went. She was very content as she traveled, ignoring the owl hoots above her, the wolf howls in the distance, and the quivering bushes beside her. Everything was right with the world, even as her surroundings grew foggy.
Ten minutes, Annie counted. Ten more minutes until she’d be fine turning around. Yet, despite her persistent counting, even using her fingers for assistance, Annie kept losing her place and feeling off. She inexplicably couldn’t tell how long had passed before the fog set in and her numbers were thrown off. Now a little worried, Annie slowed her pace, deciding it was time to head back…
But not until she was distracted once again. It appeared she made it to the end of the path, because a few dozen meters head could be seen a large clearing with a giant black tree sitting in the center. Or rather, what she thought was the center of the clearing, because the fog prevented her from seeing any farther.
Almost as though she were beckoned, Annie’s feet continued placing themselves one before the other until she stood at the tree’s base. Now, she was scared. Why was she there? Didn’t she choose to go back? What would her parents do to her if she disappeared for too long?!
Thoughts jumbled, Annie was afflicted by another mysterious beckoning. No voice, no directions, but she placed her hand on what looked like a bark tumor on the tree’s trunk, then pulled. Amazingly, the bark around the tumor-looking thing squealed and creaked in protest of her action as though the tree were…a door.
No longer beckoned, Annie’s curiosity got the better of her as she turned what she now thought was a door handle, and pulled. Just like before with the bathroom, she only made a crack to peer through. Yet, instead of seeing the inside of a tree like she expected, Annie saw…the clearing. Rather, the other side of the clearing, the one she did not enter through. What was going on?
“…risky business. Simply not worth trying because, not only do they probably suspect it, they’re likely just waiting to catch us red-handed.”
“I’m fully aware, but what other options do we have, Raya?”
Annie let out a gasp, startled by the new voices, and swiftly moved to close the door. When she did, she wasted no time pounding her shoes into the ground, beginning to run. She didn’t think there’d be people out there, and as a firm believer in “stranger danger”, she didn’t plan on letting them know that she was there either!
Then a cold hand landed on her shoulder. Annie released gut-wrenching scream as her legs gave out and she fell to the floor. She hadn’t even heard the door open again! Yet, they’d caught her already?! Terrified, she turned back to see the face of the one who’d grabbed her.
“Little Annie?” The beautiful woman in a lovely flowing robe asked.
She was paralyzed. How did the woman know her name? Had they met?
WHAT WAS THAT?!
Horror crawled through Annie’s little heart as she saw a second being approach through the now-open door in the tree—a colossal snake. Immediately, Annie went into shock, her chest heaving at an unprecedented speed and her eyes losing their sight. Seeing the enormous snake was too much for her ten-year-old brain.
“Little Annie! Are you okay!” The woman asked louder than before, then turned to look at the snake following her. “Don’t worry! That’s Kirstin: a friend.”
The woman bent down to put a glowing hand on Annie’s back and rubbed in circles. Effects appeared quickly as Annie’s eyes regained their awareness and her breathing steadied, but she was still too frightened by the reptile to move. Despite that, the woman still tried getting answers from her.
“Annie, I need you to nod your head if that was the first time you opened the door in the tree. C’mon Annie, nod or shake your head, I need to know right now.”
The beautiful woman’s voice seemed to contain a relaxing effect as Annie turned her eyes to her and slowly nodded.
“Oooooh, Annie. If that really was the first time you opened that door, then everything is fine.” She hugged the little girl tightly, releasing the stress from her voice as she said, “It’s me, your great aunt Raya.”