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The Last Page to a New Beginning
I’m shrouded in darkness. It starts to suffocate me as the claustrophobia begins to kick in. I crawl forwards, trying to be productive rather than curling up in a ball gasping for air like a fish out of water. My limbs fall limp and I disintegrate into a mess of broken desires and fleeting hope.
I don’t know how or why I’m here. All I can remember is falling into here and nothing else. It is all a blur, and the tantalizing dread that is blooming from the sprout of terror is anything but comforting.
Then the walls started closing around me and I couldn’t take the state of it. How- or if at all- will I get out of here? Why am I here? How did I get here? The questions crash into the sides of my head and don’t help the already forming headache pounding like a jackhammer in my forehead. The anxiety mixes with my unbearable terror and I can’t find the strength to bring myself to my feet.
But knowing my weakened state, I have to get up if I hope of getting out of here alive- if I am even alive. Even that, I do not know. I search deep inside me to see if there is any strength left and I feel a sudden rush of adrenaline kick in, making me jump up like there were no claustrophobic walls holding me down seconds ago.
I feel my legs begin moving in a blur of moving skin- not like I can see it; I can’t see anything through the blackness that is so thick I could cut it down the middle. Just as I am on my feet and the hope had just begun to replace the fear, I smack into a wall and fall backwards onto the hard ground.
Pain shoots up my arms and legs, coursing through my whole body in antagonizing pain. My hand flies to my nose, for the pain is most sharp there, but as soon as I touch it I scream in throbbing pain and my hand drops to my side. I groan in aggravation, everything I do seeming to not work and every step I take in trying to fix it ultimately failing.
I pull myself heavily to my feet and stretch my arms out in front me, determined not to repeat what had happened last time. That, and I am basically blind. I smile in gratitude as my palms hit cold wood. My grin reaches the edges of my cheeks as I realize that wood can mean just one thing, a door.
I move my palms in circles along the door, searching for a handle of some sort and my smile soars downwards when I find no such thing. I feel my heart drop as my hope dies all together. Nothing ever comes that easily.
My arms drop to my side as I lean my back against the door and slid down on my bottom. How am I supposed to get out of here? I feel my eyelids drooping with the weight of emotions this place has put on me. I fight the urge to curl up in a ball and fall asleep, knowing in doing that I would give ultimate defeat. But, I do not give up that easily.
I turn around and face the door one more time. There must be a way for me to get out; why else would the door be here? I run my palms along it a second time, hoping that this time I will find something that last time I did not. The same smile spreads widely across my face, the spurt of hope returning in diminished numbers as I find a small circle of flat metal. Inside the small metal circle is a key hole.
A key! But where is it? I fall to my knees, clawing the ground as I desperately search for something, anything. The moments grow longer as my hands fall empty. Tears pool in my eyes as I slump against the wall, truly defeated. Then, an ominous click fills the room like a train horn and a sliver of yellow light falls on my foot.
I race towards the door with happiness coursing through every nerve in my body, a smile ringing like a bell on my face. There is a way out, a place where I can find the answers, talk to people, see something other than-
I stop short when I catch my first glimpse through the doorway. My hand freezes on the cold wood as I stare inside, my whole body shaking. My challenge is not yet over and my fight continues on.
A long hallway lies directly in front of me, two more forking off my left and my right. On each floor of the hallways lies a thin, rich, red carpet that rolls over the glassy marble effortlessly. Gold embellishes the sides of each carpet and at the end, shimmering gold tassels tickle the marble.
The walls of the hallways are covered with doors. There is not a centimeter between each door, though they are all different from each other in every way. The one closet to me is very tall and skinny, barely large enough to fit your body through and completely made of dark metal. The one directly to the left of that one is a stumpy door made of cracking wood. Each one different from the next, almost like snowflakes.
I stand dumbstruck for a moment, my mind trying effortlessly to figure out the challenge laid before me. Obviously, I have to go through one of these doors but the question is, which one? This hallway alone must have at least fifty doors and who knows how many other hallways there are.
I step out of the doorframe and I jump when I hear the door slam shut behind me. I flip around in panic and reach for the handle of the door, but my hand falls through air when I realize there is none.
I sigh as I turn around and fall on my bottom. I put my face in my hands and try to make sense of my cluttered thoughts. I breathe in deeply and relax my nerves. A high pitched giggle makes me jump up on my feet in shock. At the end of the hallway directly in front of me, peering around a corner is a little girl.
She smiles an evil grin then disappears.
“Hey!” I scream to no avail.
I shake my head as I begin sprinting after her, knowing somehow that in order to leave the endless hallways, I must catch her.
I reach the end of the hallway and turn left just in time to see her small body disappear around the next turn. A cat and mouse game begins.
I chase after the little girl who giggles constantly every time she hears me turn a corner. She has wispy blond hair tied in ponytails with pink ribbons that match her pink dress. A white bow is tied tightly in the back. I take in these details as I chase her through the hallways, never touching a single knob of any door, my only thought to confront this little girl.
With each turn I get closer and closer to her and I can see her wearing thin. My own body is begging for rest but I refuse it. My legs feel like rubber, my lungs and throat like sandpaper, and I am so dizzy I feel like I could have been on a Merry-Go-Round for days straight.
She is yards in front of me, so close I can hear her wheezing breath. She turns one last corner and I jump just as I turn it for myself. I catch her arm in my jump and I pull her down with me. We both go tumbling to the ground.
“Hey!” She screams at me in a thick southern accent as she tugs on her arm, “Let me go!”
I flip over and pin her down with my body. Me being about three times her size it is easier than I thought. Her face is red and her breath still wheezes from her body but even so she still tries unsuccessfully to throw me off.
“I said, let me go!” She screams, her freckles popping out on her pale skin and her emerald eyes glowing hot anger.
“Tell me how to get out of here.” I demand in a level voice, no longer gasping for air, “Tell me which door to take.”
“Ain’t it obvious?” She gets her breath back and asks me, laughing.
I let some of the pressure off her frail body, afraid I might crush her. I give her a blank stare and she laughs more. She looks down the long hallway, the last hallway and I see how it was obvious.
At the very end of the hallway lies the grandest door I have seen in all the hallways. It is pearly white, nearly translucent and touches the ceiling and all sides of the wall. The hallway ends there, no more branches leading off of it. The massive door is solid, a single knob occupying the left side of the door.
“Now will get off me?” The words burn off her tongue as her eyebrows furrow, “You’ve about done as much damage to me as I did running here.”
I scramble off of her and help her up. She stretches the parts where I was on top of her, glaring at me all the while. She seems strangely… older than she appears.
“Why are you here?” I ask her, keeping my voice steady.
“You’re dead Annie.” She snickers and ignores my question, “Ain’t nothing you can do about it now other than move on.”
The statement doesn’t surprise me; I already had guessed it from the beginning. How else would any of this make sense?
“Who are you?”
“None of your business.” She replies curtly as she swivels away from me and starts walking away from me, “See you at the end Annie, hope you make it.” She stops and turns towards me and smiles, “I think I might actually like you.”
And with that, the little girl is gone.
I put her out of my thoughts as I slowly walk towards the end of the hallway, more than an hour of sprinting through the halls having thoroughly fatigued me. I reach the end and put my hand on the knob. It feels smooth and ice cold under my delicate fingers.
I turn the knob and push the door open. To my surprise, I find a long dirt path stretching as far as I can see with cherry blossom trees lining the sides. I cross the threshold willingly, amazed at the sights. The door swings closed with a long bang behind me and I hear a lock click.
I begin walking down the path, gazing at the sight above me. The cherry blossom trees hang over me, their branches and flowers hanging down to greet me. They form a sort of protective barrier as I walk underneath their leaves.
Occasionally, a flower will fall down. Each time one does I pick it up and each twig I see. It does not take long before I have enough flowers and twigs to make myself a flower crown. I place it on my head and close my eyes. I feeling of serenity washes through me.
I walk along this path for what seems like days. Each tree I pass is exactly identical to the next, much unlike the doors aligning the long, marble hallways. The rare times when I open my eyes, I see memories.
They play out in front of me like actors at a theatre. I see my family, my friends, my childhood, my wishes and dreams, I see all happy things. I usually close my eyes before I begin tearing up, seeing these play out while I walk on this foreign path feels as though I am betraying everyone I loved so much. I shouldn’t be here, I should be with them.
I walk and I walk, trying as best as I can to keep my eyes closed and march along at the same steady pace. My feet never grow tired nor do my legs turn to rubber as they had when I was sprinting through the hallways.
It seems like ages before I open my eyes and find a door. This one looks like something out of a home, normal sized, and earthy brown with a smooth, glossy handle. My heart leaps in joy and I turn in willingly, crossing the threshold with closed eyes and closing the door myself. It locks shut and I turn to face my next obstacle. I soon realize I wish I had never crossed that last door.
Lightening booms in my ears as thunder shakes the floor beneath me. A storm rages in the clouds above as I see a stone staircase racing in a single spiral and until it disappears into the clouds. The first stone step lies just yards away.
I swallow my fears as I jump onto the first stone step and begin racing up the stairs. Lighting strikes at the staircase, spewing stones in the air like a volcano and taking out whole steps. I barely make it up a dozen steps before memories begin appearing.
My mother and I fighting, moving from my house, my dad leaving us, my dog that I grew up with through my childhood dying, being made fun of at school, sitting alone at lunch, crying and crying when I got home each school day. These memories surround me and because of the lighting striking the staircase and how high I am climbing, closing my eyes would mean certain death.
I blink away the tears as they stream down my face, trying so desperately to not look at the memories but it is impossible. They move with me as I leap up the stairs, refusing for me to look anywhere but at them. The worst part is I can hear the heart wrenching sounds of the memories over the thunder and the cracks of lightening.
“It was because of you he left Annie, you did this to-”
“I’m sorry honey, I thought we’d be able to stay but there just isn’t enough money-”
“Darling don’t leave, we can make it through the bills. I promise you just please don’t-”
“You don’t get it and you never will! Don’t you dare try to apologize to me, don’t you ever try to make up for what you’ve-”
“Max please don’t go, you’re the only one I have left in this-”
“Annie why don’t you cry like you did yesterday? Cry like a little baby Annie, cry you-”
“I’ve heard her only friend is her dog-”
“Why did they do this to me? Why?”
I had forgotten about all those horrible things while I’ve been here. I forgot about them in the darkness, I forgot about them in the hallways, and I forgot about them on the cherry blossom path. If the little girl said I was dead, then why does this all seem so real?
Lighting cracks at the step my foot just left and another bolt hits two steps above me. I hug the column of stone that the stairs revolve around, not daring to look over the edge. I am almost there, I have only two dozen stairs left and-
Thunder shakes the staircase and I lose my balance and trip over the edge. I desperately reach for the edge of the staircase and barely grab hold of it. My whole body wavers from side to side as my fingers scarcely hold myself up.
“See you at the end Annie, I hope you make it.” The little girls words pop in my head, “I may actually like you.”
I squeeze my eyes closed as the memories lean over and stare at me. I can’t look at them now, I simply can’t.
“You’re why he left Annie, he left because of you!” The image of my mother screams as she looks down at me, “If you weren’t here he’d still be here.”
My face clenches as I pull myself up, my arms now supporting the rest of my body. A bolt of lightning shakes the stairs as it hits inches from my arms. The shock makes me fall to my fingers again.
“You did this to yourself Annie, I just wish you were never-”
“Shut up!” I scream as I pull myself on my arms, gritting my teeth, “He left because of you and your constant nagging!” I pull my torso up and see my silenced mother staring down at me, “He left because you would yell at everyone for being lazy but you did nothing!” I heave my whole body onto the stone and grit my teeth from the fatigue, “Maybe if you were home once in a while he would have stayed!” I pull myself to my feet and stare into the cold blue eyes of my mother, “If you had been the tiniest bit motherly he wouldn’t have left in the first place.”
And with that, I turn my back on her and begin sprinting up the stairs again. The thunder shakes the stairs, the lightening spews rocks, but nothing keeps me more driven then the sound of my mother’s sobs following me up the stairs.
“I tried Annie, I tried.”
I grit my teeth and push harder, thankful that she is not screaming at me any longer. I push myself up the last stairs before they disappear into the clouds and stare up above at the dark blue clouds. The last few stones step disappear into the dark blue.
Thunder shakes the stairs so violently I press myself firmly to the stone column. Lighting strikes behind me and I know I have to go through the clouds; there is nowhere else to go. Fear leaps in me as I close my eyes. I surge of adrenaline courses through me and I push off the balls of my feet, sprinting up the last few steps.
I skid to a stop when I hear the sound of the storm raging silence completely. I peak through my eyelids and find an endless expanse of white enfolding around me. It is exactly the opposite effect the darkness had on me when I began. Here I feel lost, stranded and deserted. Fear envelops my heart in a new way, one that is much, much more frightening.
“Annie?” A familiar voice calls out from behind me.
The voice is young and feminine, a strong southern accent ringing out as clear as a bell in that one word.
“Would you come here for a moment?”
I turn around shakily, expecting to see only more white stretching before me but I am surprised to see a grown woman clad in all white standing before me. Her hair is a long pale blond, reaching her stomach. Her eyes are a sharp emerald green, seemingly frightening but hidden beneath is a small warmth that makes me step towards her.
“And you are-”
“I’m the little girl you chased through the hallway.” She smiles at me and beckons me forwards with her hand, “Please Annie, come. I will explain all of it to you.”
Her smile shows genuine kindness to it and her eyes gleam with happiness. From this I chose to trust her as I follow her. As we walk, the white blurs and moves, hazy with uncertainty and doubt.
“You ain’t dead Annie.” She says suddenly, startling me, “You are far from it actually. We are good people, you must understand this if you want me to continue.”
“Good, now where shall I begin?” She says, staring into the white haze as she builds her story in her head, “Obviously you relived what your life was like on the cherry blossom path and the stone staircase, am I correct?”
I fall speechless, not able to believe what I had just seen. In the hazy white an image of me, running up the staircase seeing all my memories appeared but when she stopped talking it vanished. I rub my eyes and look at her in amazement.
She takes that as a yes and continues, “You hated your life Annie, you truly did. You wanted nothing more than to grow up, grow old and die. We knew this and knew it was our time to step in. You were sleeping when it happened, that’s our favored time to take action. We took you from your sleep, or I should say we took your soul while your body slept on and on. Eventually your mother took you to the hospital when you didn’t wake up after she screamed in your ear a couple times.”
And as she says this, it appears before me in the white haze in vivid detail. I watch as my mother scoops me in her arms, puts me in her car because she’s too cheap to call an ambulance and drives me to the hospital. I am rendered speechless.
“Meanwhile we took you in. We sent you through the passage ways so you could arrive here. We helped you by making you fight through the painful memories on the staircase, fight through them and prove they can’t conquer you anymore.”
“And who are you?” I interrupt as I watch the image of climbing up the stairs fade away, “And why would you help me?”
She lets out a small laugh, “Well we’re good people, trust us on that. We help the people that can’t get out of the rut in their life and can’t seem to find the strength to continue on any longer. We help the people just like you Annie. We help ya’ll because we care.”
“How are you going to help me?” I ask, stopping and turning to her, “There’s nothing you can do to change my mom or bring back my dad.”
“We give ya’ll a choice.” Warmth gleams in her eyes again, “You can go back, live your life and try to make your life better, show your mother that she can’t go around blaming others for her problems, stand up for yourself in front of those bullies, show the world you ain’t what they thought you to be. Or, you can stay here. All those doors in those hallways lead to so many people who decided to stay here. Yours is just one of many.”
“But my mother-”
“Is someone who is hurting deep inside, someone that inflicts pain so she doesn’t have to feel her own. She’s only a human being; give her a chance when she didn’t give you one.”
“But my dad-”
“Is only a human. He ain’t superman and he will come back into your life when you start making it livable for him. The only way to make your life better is to change the way you look at it. Things will get better once you make them better Annie.” Her eyes sparkle with hope, “I just hope you’ll listen to me.”
I stare at her speechless, not knowing what to say.
“Things will get worse for your mother if you don’t go back.”
“Take me back.” I say suddenly, the words flying out of my mouth before I think them through, “I want to go back.”
She smiles at me and clasps my shoulders, “You made the right choice Annie. Just remember what I’ve said when you wake up.”
Then, everything falls into the white haze around me.
I hear myself groan and my head roll to the side. My whole body aches with bone crushing pain and I barely am able to open my eyes before-
“Bout’ time you woke up. This hospital bill’s coming out of your money.” My mother groans as I hear a magazine slap against a counter, “Bout’ time I can leave without a nurse whining about-”
“I love you mom.” I whisper as I watch her freeze in her tracks.
Her face falls, her exterior collapsing on itself as she stares at me in numb shock.
I feel hope blooming inside of me as I take all my strength to sit up in my hospital bed and look in her eyes, “You are a wonderful, caring mother and I am thankful to have you. I know you always say I’m the reason dad left and you wished I was never born but I know under all that you love me to. If you just let your shell down after all that’s happened and just learn what it feels like to be happy again you’ll actually enjoy being who you are, my mom.”
She walks towards me with something in her eyes I’ve never seen since my father left. I see pain.
She sits on the side of my bed and looks down at her hands, “It happened so fast Annie I didn’t know what to do. One day he was here and the next he was gone. I just didn’t know what to do. I lashed out on everyone, I couldn’t learn to be happy again and most of all I just couldn’t bring myself to recognize that my actions did this to myself. I’m… I’m sorry Annie.”
The pain in her face is so strong I feel my heart crack the tiniest bit. I reach out and put my hand on top of hers, “I forgive you, just do me one favor.”
She looks at me without that cold stare in her eyes for the first time in a long, long time, “What?”
“Never wear socks with sandals again.”