“You really wanna come in here?” I hold your hand, gazing into your eyes. I’m daring you to be terrified and enamored all at once and I know it isn’t fair. I never said I played fair. In fact, you think I’m great right now but soon you will likely change your mind.
“You make it sound worse than it probably is,” your kisses reassure me for the moment that this is a good idea. I relish your taste, in case you run out screaming before I can kiss you one last time.
I giggle. “You know I love to exaggerate. I’m sure there are worse places to be.”
I’m lying. I love it here but I’m used to it. Any regular functioning human would turn and run, which is why I chose you. You’re not regularly functioning. You seem to know what it’s like to get trapped inside a place you love too much to abandon.
We arrive through a trapdoor that leads to a tunnel. It’s dimly lit, but where the light comes from can’t be explained. “We can’t leave the way we came.” I hand him a Hawaiian tiki torch. “The South will rise again.” We laugh at my joke; I always laugh louder.
We walk through a hallway where a thick fog covers the floor up to our calves and hides our shoes.
“Why is it-“
“I can’t tell you.”
“You don’t know what I was gonna ask.”
“If it’s about anything in this room, I can’t tell you.” I can likely answer whatever question, but I’m not ready to answer anything. I feel naked and the unsettling sensation of shame creeps down my throat and squats in my belly. I regret this.
To be honest, I only think the fog is here because I like fog. I hope all the spiders hide this time; apparently, not many people find them as beautiful as I do.
The tiki torches illuminate a wall with the poem “Annabell Lee” scribbled in purple marker. “I did that in my bedroom one summer with my best friend Kati. It was a guilty pleasure to write on the wall so I chose a poem instead of a crude drawing. Handwriting is shit though.”
“I thought you couldn’t tell me anything?” Your eyebrows raise at me.
“Well, that’s easy. It’s something I did when I was about fourteen. I painted over it with a weird blue color about six months later. You’re basically looking at my bedroom wall.”
“Is this your bedroom?”
“Sort of. Maybe more of my headroom.”
“Headroom? Is that even a word?”
“It is up here, Strawberry Shortcake.” One more kiss before you hate me. One more kiss before I scare you away like the others. Maybe you won’t; maybe you’ll find the darkness exciting, endearing even. That’s how I imagine Stephen King. Terrifying but endearing.
“Fuck. The door is down there again.” I point to a tiny door under a window.
“The door. Sometimes it’s easy to get in there; sometimes the door is normal. Other times it’s not as easy to enter, I hope they’ve been cleaning. I warned them but they don’t often listen.”
“Yeah, they.” I sigh and put out the tiki torch in a random puddle on the ground. The ground was soft and mossy earth speckled in glowing pebbles like my favorite story Hansel and Gretel, except there was no moonlight.
Like me, they glow on their own.
We crawl through that arched door like Alice in Wonderland and enter quietly, and I remember the last person I invited inside and their departure on the verge of madness, tufts of hair still clutched in their hands and the ringing in their ears still presenting itself when it gets too quiet.
It’s a haunted house that only seems to be a giant room, it’s comfortable and unsettling, sensual and terrifying. Sound omits from secret corners that lead to a daydream or a nightmare that no one can resist. It smells amazing, like lemongrass and piney weed, but you don’t smoke as much as I do so you may not like it. To me, it’s comforting.
Walls don’t appear to exist inside because floor to ceiling bookshelves dominate the space, but windows filter in a light that hides and reveals various insecurities, which I protect and feed with my life. I glance at you and see your eyes widen as you take in my space. I think you like it.
Books, paper and pens are everywhere. There isn’t always a place to sit, but a chaise lounge with butter stains and smoke burns appears under the window where the tiny door used to be.
You pick up a pen. “Who is Shannon Smith?”
“She’s my homegirl.”
“Why do you have twenty pens with her name on them?”
“She gave them to me.”
“In here? How did they get in here?”
“The same way you did; I brought them.”
“What happened to the door?”
“I told you, we never leave the way we came also, it basically tells us when we can leave.”
“What? How long do you think we could be here?” I feel panic from you. A glass of wine floats in from nowhere and I hand it to you after taking a huge gulp.
I stopped sipping years ago.
“I can’t tell you that.” I could; you just have to ask to leave. But I don’t want you to leave yet.
An elaborate Victrola in the corner plays your favorite song until it randomly catches a quote and runs it on repeat. Other days it just recites numbers that coincide with the steps being taken on the outside. Those are hard days. Eight counts for hours.
I notice that it seems a bit more lively than usual and motion us to the chaise lounge.
“Uh, let’s wait this out and see what happens. It will be kind of like a movie.”
I take your hand but you don’t take mine back. I’m holding a hand that isn’t holding mine back and we haven’t been here longer than twenty minutes.
I start to mourn you immediately.
Soon the familiar smell of herb and lemons enters the room with a giant cloud of smoke to the point where we can’t see each other. You cough, I inhale promiscuously out of my rising anxiety. The Victrola starts the dreaded eight count and we realize that we aren’t alone up here.
I’m never alone, but I never know they’re with me until they speak.
A version of me materializes and sends you towards a mirror her face is red and puffy. little thumbnail prints are etched in half-moons around invisible bumps that only she can see. She tells you to look and squeeze anything new on your face until something comes out. Sometimes it’s a blackhead that takes a couple seconds; we love those, other times it’s a new freckle that becomes a bloody scar. You both spend two hours with your hands on your faces, mindlessly popping and picking the same places until the cloud of smoke comes back and you follow a new voice that brings you to a bed you never noticed and you realize this is the Room of Requirement. The body attached to the voice spoons you and tells you how irreplaceable you are, you’re so beautiful, so talented, so smart. She strokes your hair and tells you everything lovely that she’s noticed about you. You’re warm and you drift to sleep.
I’m glad this version of me is here, I hope she sticks around.
The body spooning wakes you abruptly and tells you that you slept too long and recites in quick whispers the list of things that should have been done, and when you try to cross off the list she asks if you should be doing that, maybe you should try something different. The voice ping pongs you through your list but refuses to allow one to be completed. Get here, then go there. Now go here. Put that down, try this.
Our eyes meet and I try to apologize while my evil and misunderstood duplicates bustle around you, speaking in different octaves of the same voice.
I’m working against myself and have no idea how to make it stop.
You watch in complete horror. ”Was that you?”
“Yeah. They are me.” I hang my head, you don’t sound impressed, you sound terrified. I’ve turned from your dream girl to your worst nightmare and I can tell you want to leave, but I still refuse to let you leave until you ask.
Stockholm Syndrome is a thing, right? If I can drag this out a few days maybe it won’t seem so bad and you won’t leave….
My thoughts are interrupted with your voice, “I wanna get out of here…” Tears are in your eyes and whatever you almost loved before is long gone.
“I’m sorry,” I’m crying too as my eyes scan the room for your escape. I just hope the room doesn’t hurt you as bad as the others on their way out. My mind gets upset when it’s rejected, especially when we invite someone inside. I find the door and open it, you run away without taking a second look at me. I hear your cries and I return to the chaise lounge, where a blunt is waiting for me. I light it and throw a giant wolf pelt over my shoulders to serve as a blanket, tears flowing as I listen to you scream in painful hysteria.
A different version of me appears and takes the blunt out of my hand. She isn’t surprised and doesn’t try to comfort me.
“Yeah, NEVER let them in when that Alice door shows up. They won’t last half a day. That poor victim, I may start calling them sacrifices at this point, was only here four hours.” Different me takes a long drag and hands it back.
“So when do I let them in? What door do I wait to present itself?”
“I just wouldn’t. I don’t even know when you’re gonna have me show up. You’re lucky the drunken crying one isn’t here today. She’s still talking about that artist from last summer, you know.” She rolled her eyes.
“Yeah, so am I. It’s why I try not to drink.” I take a deep drag and stare at the door from my recent escapee. I can’t help but notice that despite the fact I know you’re gaining distance from me
And my mind
Your cries are just as loud as if you’re still sitting beside me.