It all started one night, where the moon ate a quarter of the sky and the rest had been sprinkled with glittering stars. They gathered at an old, small field where the community clubhouse used to hold annual soccer games. Three long shadows stood on the empty field where the clouds had been hovering a few inches off the ground. The three were in a deep conversation over a key. It was massive in their little hands. The lustrous, rustic gold key was in the hands of one young girl who had been feeling around the tips of it.
Eli asked, “What should we do with it?”
“Bury it.” Max declared.
A clearing of the throat interrupted the rising tension between the two.
“Why don’t we use it?” Aubrey asked.
“We can’t.” Max insisted.
“Why not? Aren't you interested at all at what it could lead us to?”
“Aubrey, no, it could be risky, we could get in trouble.”
“How about a vote? I vote we should use it.” Aubrey proposed.
“I vote no, obviously.”
Then they both said in perfect synchronization, “Eli?”
Eli cleared his foggy glasses from the frigid air. He furrowed his brow as he intensely considered both options, and the other two imagined they could see the wheels turning in the back of his head.
“Today Eli.” Max said with his arms crossed and right foot tapping.
“Um, I vote… we use it.”
“Eli! I thought we were friends?” Max cried.
“We are! But I agree with Aubrey. Plus it could be exciting, don’t you think?”
Aubrey enjoyed dreams. She found them as a way to escape reality. She enjoyed the little things that came and went in her life, but she held high expectations for herself on a daily basis. Her parents kept it nice and simple, as they would always tell her to try her best and to study. They weren't strict, but they weren't easy on her. Aubrey always had thoughts of grades, tests, school, etc, in the back of her mind. Once a week during her lunch period, she would talk to Dr. Lolliette. Aubrey talked about her feelings and other emotions that were bottled deep, down inside her. She did this because she felt like nobody would understand; Aubrey felt as if nobody cared and maybe, just maybe, she could make Dr. Lolliette care. She would tell Dr. Lolliette , “I feel like I am studying at my desk in my bedroom. While I’m taking notes or completing a homework assignment, the TV is on in the background, or my parents are talking, while at the same time the phone is ringing, and I just can’t concentrate.” Aubrey didn't want to come to terms with the truth, she was stressed and worried. To her, those words sounded like failure. She wouldn’t and couldn’t, accept it. Because of this, she enjoyed her dreams. Where she could fly above the clouds, be queen of the sea, climb Mt. Everest and have no consequences to her actions. She would slip into her dreams, hoping to escape the world where she was simply content in.
THE VERY NEXT DAY
The very next day when Aubrey woke up, her eyes shined with excitement. She threw on an outfit, grabbed a satchel, then extended her arm and wiped everything clear off her desk and into her bag. She threw the flap closed and hurried downstairs, sliding down the staircase railing. She hung a pair of binoculars around her neck and glided on the slippery, just washed kitchen floor. The suds from the soapy solution made her feel like she was gliding on skates over the ice. She swooped in for a glass of orange juice, which she gulped down in a blink of an eye. She danced around the arena for “exercise” as the frozen pancakes defrosted in the microwave. Once the buzzer went off, she scarfed down the three flapjacks. With her morning mission completed, she scurried off to her next one. She hollered goodbye and gave Mr. Kitty a pat on the head. Out she went, skipping down the driveway. She looked left and right and then zipped down across the street. She climbed up the tree and knocked on the window. A pair of dark shades covered the window, making it hard for her to see through. After persistently tapping on the window the shades violently opened. A messy - haired Eli had awakened. Aubrey opened a gif on her phone “IT’S ALIVE.” Eli giggled as he cleared his glasses of morning must. Aubrey scribbled a few words with a bold, black marker on a sticky note that she then slapped onto the window for Eli to see: LET'S GO GET MAX.
A QUICK PREVIEW
Nobody knew what the initials stood for. All anybody knew was that the house belonged to Mrs. J. B. L. She’s an old ghost that nobody had ever really seen. Aubrey had only seen glimpses of the house while her bus would pass it on the way home from school. The bus zipped by too fast for her to truly see it, but from what she could grasp, it was huge, and mystifyingly beautiful. At precisely 2:37 pm the bus would leave the school parking lot, and at 3:00pm it would always pass by J. B. L’s house. The first thing that Aubrey’s eye would catch was the small black mailbox with her initials painted in script with a thick, creamy paint. Aubrey’s eyes would then wander to the old brick wall surrounding the house on all sides. The property had two driveways. A long winding one, leading to the main house, , and another, off to the side, which led to the caretaker’s cottage. The main entrance was decorated with two columns of brick about seven feet high each. It was only on Wednesday last week when Aubrey had noticed something new. A Sotheby’s for sale sign had popped up, planted next to the mailbox. Aubrey also saw a small red truck in the caretaker’s driveway. A sign of life refreshed her eyes from the main entrance on the front yard. A sleek haired, jet-black dog was stretched out on the front lawn, soaking in the sun. She had snapped a picture of the house number..
THREE DAYS LATER
Aubrey’s room was a mess. I mean, it looked like a tsunami of pencils and papers had taken place. After her mom had seen this death zone she insisted that Aubrey should clean it up before the maid got there. I know, ironic right? Aubrey bent down on her knees and began to clean the mess. She put the blankets that had slid onto the floor back onto the bed. She then picked up some loose-leaf stacks of notes she had written down and threw them into a folder that she then dumped into a crevice in her my closet. After throwing piles of a mess into different closet drawers and unused folders Aubrey looked around her room. “What am I forgetting?” she thought. Then it had hit her, literally. She had slipped on a banana peel of a sheet of paper on the floor. She stumbled onto the floor and hit her toe on the corner of the desk. After saying, “Son of a b----!”She stopped herself midway and then looked at the culprit that had caused her this horrible agony. She un-crumpled the sheet and saw what she had written on it from days ago. She muttered the following, “House number 3999, Purchase Street, 15,000 square feet, on sale….” This sweet dream of a house was going to be sold soon!
A MIDNIGHT DREAM
It was midnight. The only sound was the rustling of fall leaves on the floor, skittering in the wind by their feet at the front of the main driveway. The dark night sky made it hard to see, but snippets of moonlight weaved through the long branches of the Weeping Willow tree.
“Are we just going to stare at the house all night in the freezing cold?” Max asked.
“No, Max, but Aubrey, it’s pretty cold.”
“Yeah, I get that, but go bring it up with Mother Nature, I don’t control the weather”
Eli crossed his arms in attempt to keep himself warm.
“Okay, so here’s the plan.” Aubrey said.
“First, we will run to the right to the small house where the caretaker is. We should just check that he is in there and not in the big house. Then -.”
“Wait. Can we use codenames?” Eli proposed.
“Yeah, this is a spy mission right? In every spy movie they have codenames.”
Aubrey groaned. “Fine, Eli, we can use codenames,” She said.
Aubrey grabbed three walkie-talkies out of her bag.
“Here, we will all have a walkie-talkie in case somebody gets lost.”
“Walkie-talkies? What is this, the 19th century?” Max complained.
“Okay, first of all, they weren't invented in the 19th century! And Eli left his phone at home so you will just have to deal it,” Aubrey fired back.
Max put his hands up in surrender, as they then looked at Eli.
“What?” He said as he shrugged his shoulders.
“It was only one time when I got lost!,” Eli protested. “I just didn’t remember where you guys wanted to meet!”
Max sighed, and Aubrey gave one of her famous eye-rolls before they all started to laugh at the memory of their last “spy adventure”.
TIME TO GO
The air was crisp and their lips were becoming chapped from the wind. Under Aubrey’s command they headed to the small guesthouse and peered from outside the window. All three heads popped up over the windowsill to look inside. They saw a small man in tight quarters. He had thrown off his jacket and was reading a small, worn out book on a quilt-covered bed. They then turned back around.
“Okay, he won't be a problem.” Aubrey said. They continued down the long driveway and made way for the main house. They passed the weeping tree and walked around its swaying branches. They walked up the curved left side of the driveway that led to a hidden entrance.Not a single light was on in the big old house. The door had a large metal lock on it, prohibiting people from entering. Aubrey tried at it, but the lock wouldn’t budge. Eli disappeared for a second, but then reappeared with a large rock in is hand. After Eli pounded the lock with the rock over and over again with no success, Max grabbed the rock from Eli’s grasp.
“Hey!” Eli whined.
Max threw the rock through the window of the door, “Let's try something that won't take five years, yeah?”
“Well that's one way to do it!” Aubrey exclaimed.
“Look at that huge hole! People are going to notice it!”
“C’mon, we’ve gotta get inside, time is ticking.”
Max reached through the window, unlocking the door from the inside. After he had successfully unlocked the door they walked into the house, tiptoeing silently. It was dark as Aubrey felt the sides of the walls for the lights. Her fingers worked the sides of the switch but the lights wouldn’t turn on.
“That’s weird. Why aren't the lights working?”
“This place gives me the heebie jeebies” Eli said.
The floorboards creaked underneath their feet. Eli dropped his glasses on the floor but as he went to reach for them the floor groaned. Eli thought for a second and realized that it wasn’t him who had made the floor creak. He called out for Aubrey and Max but they had made it into the other room. He tapped the floor again, it creaked but then when he was frozen, not moving a muscle, it creaked again. He stopped. Took a deep breath. Turned a 180 and felt someone else’s presence near. His skeleton jumped out of his body as he screamed for his life. He ran left until he bumped into something…actually, a someone.
“Hey calm down!” Max said.
“Oh, thank the creator of twizzlers! It's you! Listen this place is haunted. There was a creak from the floorboard, but I wasn’t doing the creaking, there is someone else in this house beside you, Aubrey and me. We need to get out of here.”
“Really, Eli? I know it’s close to Halloween, but I told you, I don’t fall for those kinds of jokes.”
“I’m not joking---‘
Another floorboard screech made way.
They both looked at each other.
“Guys, where did you go?”
“Oh it was her, never mind.”
But after they had all become relaxed, a sound so odd, so peculiar, so strange, took place. It was like a screech and growl put into one. The three turned felt its warm breath on the back of their necks. They jumped in fear and bolted into the next room.
They found themselves in complete darkness. By this time of night, even the moonlight didn’t provide much light inside the rooms. The three friends huddled closely and moved together in a pack as they hurried to find a place to hide. Eli’s arms clung onto Max’s broad shoulders for support as he panted in heavy breathing.
“What was that?” asked Eli?
“I don’t know, Eli, but right now, we need to focus on getting out of here.” Aubrey whispered.
They took Aubrey’s words of wisdom and looked around. They found themselves in a dark hallway with one door on the left and three large paintings on the right, the subjects of which were indistinguishable in the dark. Eli tried to get a better look at them but they heard footsteps getting closer. Aubrey tried for the door but it was locked.
She turned to Eli, “where’s the key”
Eli shoved his hands down the deep depths of his pockets as beads of sweat began to form around his temple. The sound of the footsteps became louder as Aubrey looked at Eli. Eli dug the key out and gave it to her. Aubrey snatched it and jammed it into the lock. After a few seconds of wriggling the key in the lock, the door finally budged. Aubrey whipped it open and they all scrambled inside locking the door behind them. Eli was about to talk but Max then threw his hands over his mouth. He motioned for everyone to be quiet in case “it” was near. The sound of footsteps had ended and everyone gasped with relief.
“How did you know that key would work?” Max asked.
The creaking of the floorboards had slowly disappeared. The three of them poked their heads out.
“Is the ghost clear?” Eli said as his top lip quivered.
“It’s coast. Is the coast clear?” Max said.
“Oh shh! Plus you don't know, it might be a ghost.”
“Guys! Come on, the coast is clear.”
“See.” Max said sharply.
They slowly walked out into the hallway. Aubrey turned on the flashlight on her cellphone and took a closer look at the images on the wall. She looked at the closest one on her left. The painting depicted the same house that they were in right now. It was a painting revealing the side of the house where the small door was. Aubrey spent some time looking at each individual detail on the painting.
Eli and Max came in for a closer look as Max asked, “What are you looking at Aubrey?”
“This portrait, there’s something odd about it but I just can't put my finger on it.”
Eli came closer to it for examining.
He spread his hands on it and felt around “It’s so smooth!”
“Eli! What are you doing? Get your hands off!” Max growled.
Push came to shove and Eli tumbled but his fingernail poked a hole in the canvas.
“Eli!” Max said.
“I’m sorry I didn't meant to!”
A giant ripe in the painting revealed a small indent beneath it. Aubrey came closer to the painting and rubbed her finger over it. Behind the painting there was still an indent in the wooden frame.
“Eli you might have ripped the painting but this indent was here long before you were.”
The three huddled around the dent.
“What do you think it is or means?”
Aubrey reached for the key from her pocket and brought it close to her eyes.
“Wait a minute, remove the painting guys.”
Eli and Max looked at each other, confused, but carried out with her order.
Once the portrait was removed there was a small slot in the wall.
“Well that’s strange.” Eli said.
“Maybe somebody just wanted to cover up an mark on the wall.”
“Maybe.” Aubrey murmured.
She slowly inserted the key into the hole. It fit perfectly! She turned it to the side and then, then something magical happened.An outline, a tracing, of a door started to appear on the wall. It was decorated with gold designs and then became three-dimensional.
“What just happened?” Max said.
“ A door just appeared out of thin air.” Eli answered.
As the three of them pondered over this new, exciting, and strange discovery, the creaking of the floorboards began again.
“It’s back.” Aubrey said.
Aubrey looked left and right, there was nowhere to go this time, the creaks were too close. An odd shadow began to form in the corner of the hallway. Aubrey sprinted for the handle of the door and whipped it open. There was no time to contemplate what to do. They ran into what looked like a mirror and the rest was history.
THE EXTRAORDINARY HOUSE
They woke up in the living room of the house. Aubrey found her feet, quickly got up, and walked to the light switch. She saw Max lying on a velvet red couch, unconscious.
“Max? Oh my god!”
Aubrey ran over to Max and pinched his arm.
After a moment of grief over the slight pain in his arm he sat upright.
“Where are we? One second we were-- and then we-- and now we're back here?”
“I don't know, first we have to find Eli?
“Oh c’mon, don't be like that.”
“Wait I thought the lights didn't work?”
“Must have been a glitch?” Aubrey said.
After rolling his eyes they left the small living room on the hunt for Eli. Almost like calling out for a lost puppy, Aubrey called his name over and over again. Max and Aubrey split up to try and find Eli faster. Aubrey went left to what looked like a kitchen as Max went to the next door on his right. Max opened the door and immediately saw Eli spread out on what looked like a pool table.
“My god.” Max grunted.
At first, Max had some trouble taking in the rough color scheme of the emerald green pool table, which stood in the middle of the room in contrast with the red sofas decorated with velvet pillows and gold frames. The oak paneled walls eased his feelings of the interior design which were accented with, you guessed it, red velvet drapes. Max quickly went to grab a cue, a wooden rack, and nine balls. He quickly placed the 8-ball in the center of the rack and the other eight balls around it. He arched his arm back and pushed the cue forward. As soon as the balls went into pockets and around Eli's body Aubrey had opened the door.
“What are you doing? We have to find--- Eli!”
She hurried over to pinch him like she had similarly done earlier with Max.
Eli sat upright rubbing his head.
“That’s definitely no tempurpedic mattress. Whoa! Where are we? I think I'm going color blind.”
“No, you’re not. It just takes a couple of seconds to adjust to this collaboration of colors, that's all.”
“Well wait, where are we?” Eli asked.
“We don't know. I woke up, in the living room, and found Max unconscious on the couch. Then we went to look for you,” Aubrey said.
The three of them stood silently for a moment to think about what had really happened. They had, one, broken into a stranger’s house for sale. Two, passed through a magical door. And three, arrived in what seemed to be like the same house. Eli walked over to the window and looked outside.
“It's awfully dark, I can't see a thing out there.”
He tried to open the window, but it wouldn't budge. He then immediately ran to the back to the door that Max had thrown the rock into. He stared at the door in amazement while waiting for the rest of his crew to follow.
“There’s not a single mark – no broken glass, nothing!.” he said, astonished.
“So there's no mark and the light switch in the living room now works. I don't get it, what's the connection?” Max asked.
THE MONTH OF SEPTEMBER
A few months before October and the adventure of the extraordinary house, Aubrey was having a hard time. Not with grades, not with school, not with friends, but with herself. She knew this was the year. The year of college tests, stress, and tears.. She had always told herself not to worry, that “Future Aubrey” would figure it out. But now she was Future Aubrey. She had two months left before her first big test. She just couldn't come to terms with it. College was always a small thought in the back of her mind. She had to juggle studying for college entrance exams, and keeping her grades at an average, if not higher, level for school simultaneously. Her friends were “okay” as she put it to Dr. Lolliette. She had about four good friends and then the rest were all acquaintances. Aubrey stood out. She stood out because she was living in two alternate universes. In one universe, she was the loud, gregarious, social, risk-taking, confident person. In the other world she was quiet, timid, sad, and alone. She could always see herself in two, diverse lights. Every day she could visualize herself taking these miniscule risks that seemed to be the world to her. Whether it was talking to the cute boy in her math class or raising her hand in French, she could see it all play out in her mind. But when she would come to terms with reality, she couldn't push herself to raise that hand of hers, to say those three words to that boy. Ultimately, Aubrey was fighting herself.
Jenny loved to play house. She enjoyed maneuvering all of the characters in different positions. She could place them wherever she wanted them to go. She could make up their names, their backgrounds, everything. On a warm, spring day, Jenny invited Charlotte over. They played tag out in the backyard. Charlotte hid behind a grouping of sunflowers, but her red hair gave her away. Jenny and Charlotte played until the sun fell behind the luscious, green trees. They then entered the house where they walked into the playroom.
“What should we play now?” Charlotte asked.
Jenny smiled as she said, “You’ll see.”
She pulled open the shutters to an old closet. She lifted a big, heavy box over to the center of the cream rug where Charlotte was sitting.
“This is my favorite game. This is my dream house.”
“Open it!” Charlotte said anxiously.
After Jenny peeled off the tape from around the ridges of the box, an old house appeared. The antique toy was made of wood, and was made in the the early 1900s.
“Wow, it’s so pretty.”
Soon after Jenny brushed off the dust from the roof and the brick-colored walls, Charlotte took a better look at the old thing.
“What’s J.B.L mean?”
“Oh, this was my great grandmother’s playhouse. Her name was Jennifer Barbara Lolliette.” Jenny pulled out a figurine from the box – a beautiful doll styled like a teenage girl.
“Ooh! Can I be her! What’s her name?”
“Sure. I call her Aubrey, here you can have her.”
“So now what, we just play?”
“Well, I like to start the game off with a story.”
Charlotte held Aubrey in her and said, “Ok I’m ready.”
Jenny began to narrate the story, “It all started one night, where the moon ate a quarter of the sky and the rest had been sprinkled with glittering stars.”