That day our treehouse was not how it always was. That day there was a door in our treehouse that had not been there before. A red door glinting like blood, like hypnotic beckoning.
“Brian,” Simon said, “where did that door come from?”
“I don’t know, Simon,” Brian said. “I’ve certainly never seen it before.
We stared at the door. This red door with painted gold vines curling up the wood.
“I’ve never seen a door like that,” Simon said.
“Should we open the door?” Charlotte asked.
“I think we should open the door,” Brian said.
Together, we opened the red door.
Behind the red door there was another room. This room was bigger than our treehouse. This room was built of wood panels stacked on wood panels. The roof of this room was held up by wooden poles. The roof of this this room had holes in it where sunlight streamed inside like buttery-yellow ribbons of gossamer.
“This room smells funny,” Brian said.
“This room smells like hay,” Charlotte said, “this room is a barn.”
Charlotte knew these things so we nodded and agreed that this room was a barn.
Porcelain dishes covered the ground of the barn. You couldn’t even see the dirt floor—or woodchip floor, or concrete. There was no way to know what the floor was because everything was pastel saucers and bowls and cups. There was no way to step around them or over them. With every step, porcelain snapped beneath our feet. The breaking sounded soft and sharp all at once, like the shattered twinkling of wind chimes.
“Once I broke my parents’ wedding vase.” Brian said, “I was throwing a softball in my living room and I missed. The vase broke into a million pieces, too many to glue together. My parents yelled and grounded me for a week.“
“Accidents happen,” Simon said.
“Breaking the vase was your accident,” Charlotte said, “Throwing your ball was on purpose.”
She took a step; she shattered a sky-blue saucer in two. “But these plates are all over the ground,” she said, “and we have to break them to leave this barn.”
“Should we leave this barn?” Brian asked.
“Shhh,” Simon said, “Do you hear that?”
We stood still, only barely allowing our breath to move us. We heard it. We heard shuffling; we heard murmuring.
“Who’s that shuffling,” Brian asked, “who’s that murmuring?”
“That shuffling and murmuring is coming from over there,” Charlotte whispered, and she pointed to a door.
This door was not the red door in our treehouse. This door was tattered. This door was painted with a green x. We tiptoed, broke glass as quietly as glass can be broken. We went through this door and we were in another room. In this room there were no plates on the ground. In this room there were heavy velvet curtains draped across the walls, and thick ropes and heavy hot lights hanging from the ceiling.
There were people in this room who paced around; these people weaved in and out of each other like dance. These people would not stop walking or speaking to each other, but they would not speak to us or look at us. These people smelled like greasy face paint. They smelled like the chemical buzz of hairspray.
“I’ve never seen clothes like that,” Brian said, pointing to a man who was wearing puffy red pants and a billowy white shirt.
The man was also wearing blue tights and shiny black shoes, and a floppy hat with a blue feather tucked in near his ear.
“Let the doors be shut upon him,” this man said, in a deep, commanding voice, “that he may play the fool no where but in’s own house.”
“What’s he talking about?” Simon asked.
Brian shrugged. “Charlotte?”
Charlotte also shrugged. “I think those are his lines. I think he’s memorized them.”
We stepped past this man. A woman was coming toward us, though this woman was not looking at us. This woman was wearing a bloated green dress that almost swallowed her up. She lifted her skirts to her ankles. “What dreamed my lord?” she said to no one, “Tell me, and I’ll requite it with sweet rehearsal of my morning’s dream.” Her voice was sweet, like violins.
“Who are they?” Brian asked.
Charlotte said, “I think they’re characters.”
Simon was staring across the room with a cold-stone face. “What about him?” he said. “He doesn’t look like the others. He doesn’t look like the characters.”
Simon’s quivering hand reached across the room, to a man in a black cloak with matted grey hair. He had sickly yellow eyes. These eyes were looking right at us. “You shouldn’t be here,” the man said, in a low but distinct voice.
“I don’t know,” Charlotte said, “but he’s breaking the fourth wall.”
Brian scrunched up his face. “The walls look fine.”
“It means he’s talking us,” Charlotte said. Her eyes were blinking wildly.
“He’s coming this way,” Simon said. He was beginning to tremble
“What should we do?” Brian asked. “I’m afraid.”
“We should run,” Simon said, “we should run very far.”
We heaved ourselves against a heavy metal door. The door pushed open and we fell into dazzling daylight.
We ran very far. We ran across grassy fields. We ran past giant lollipops that sprouted out of the ground. We ran past lakes of lime green gelatin, where giant teddy bears bounced and played volleyball. We ran and ran. As we ran, birds danced above us, squawking and whistling Italian opera.
“He’s gone,” Simon said, when we’d stopped.
“We’re safe,” Brian said. His hands were on his knees and he was wheezing, “But I am tired now.”
“Perhaps we can rest in there,” Charlotte said. She pointed to a square glass building that shined beneath the sun like a giant ice cube.
Inside, red and yellow and blue buttons covered the walls, as did spouts and spigots and knobs and switches. In the middle of the room there were very many tables where people and creatures sat and drank their drinks and talked their talks. Some of the creatures were covered in neon fur; some were shiny and sleek or slimy.
“Welcome,” a little blue creature at the door said to us, and handed us each a cup.
Charlotte put her cup beneath a spout on the wall and pressed a big red button. Her cup filled with chocolate milk.
“Just what I wanted,” she said.
Brian’s spout chugged out glittering pink lemonade. “Just what I needed.”
Simon got a marshmallow malt. “Delicious,” he said.
We drank our drinks and talked our talks.
“I think we should go home,” Brian said.
“How will we find it?” Simon said.
Brian and Simon looked at Charlotte.
“I don’t know,” she said, “I don’t think I remember the way.
Just then a hush overtook the room. We looked around. Everyone had stopped drinking their drinks and talking their talks. They were quiet and cold-faced, their heads bending toward their tables.
Brian slinked down in his chair and whispered, “He found us.”
The man with yellow eyes stood in the doorway. The little blue creature tried to hand him a cup but the man slapped it to the door. It shattered like bones, fragments sliding across the tile in all directions.
“He sees us,” Brian squeaked.
“Maybe we should run,” Charlotte said.
We ran from our seats. We ran out the back door. We ran across grassy fields. We ran through giant clumps of cotton candy that sprouted out of the ground. We ran past lakes of blue raspberry gelatin, where rocking horses rocked races. We ran and ran. As we ran, birds danced above us, squawking and whistling French operettas.
We saw a train. This train was made of plastic blocks stacked on plastic blocks. This train lugged itself across a track that spiraled over the grassy hills.
“I’m tired,” Brian said, wheezing.
“Maybe we should take the train,” Charlotte suggested.
We ran as fast as we could. Charlotte was the first to heave herself into the car, then she took Simon’s hands and pulled him in after, then Simon and Charlotte grabbed Brian, who was stumbling and huffing, and pulled him into the cargo cart that had no cargo in it.
“Where is this train going?” Brian said through strained breaths.
The train had reached the top of the hill and we could see out across many, many miles.
Charlotte pointed out at the tracks, tracing the air. “It’s just one big circle,” she said, “always returning.”
“But why?” Brian said.
“That must just be how they built it,” said Simon.
The cargo cart we sat in was hooked to what looked like a passenger car. This passenger car had a window in the back. We could see the backs of heads. One passenger had tangled grey hair. This passenger turned around. His skin looked like white wax, slowly dripping off his face. His eyes were a sickly, citrus yellow. He smiled and mouthed, silently but plainly, “I got you.”
“It’s him,” Brian squealed. “I think we should run. Should we run?”
Simon nodded, “We should run.” And he started to pull himself over the side of the cargo cart.
We jumped off the train and we ran. We ran across grassy fields. We ran past sour gummy worms that squirmed out of holes in the ground. We ran past lakes of black licorice jello, where porcelain dolls with cracked faces bounced and played tennis. We ran and ran. As we ran, birds danced above us, humming and droning Gregorian chants.
We ran into a field of doors. Of doors and doors. We weaved in and out of these doors, looking for our own red door. Oak paneled doors. Yellow painted regency doors. No. No. Doors and doors. Cedar French doors. No. Stained glass doors. No. Doors and doors. Not ours. Not ours. Not our door.
Three red doors in a row. These red doors had gold swirls painted up their sides.
“Our door,” Brian said.
“Which door?” Simon asked.
“That door,” Charlotte said.
She pointed to the door in the middle. It looked like the other two doors but not. She opened this door but it was not our door. Behind this door there were sharp winds shaped like heavy wriggling shadows. They screamed out at us, blowing into our faces and raging through our hair. We closed that door.
“Not our door,” Simon said.
“Not our door?” Brian said. “Which door?”
Charlotte pointed to the next door. “That door?”
“That door,” we agreed.
We opened this door and it was our door. Our treehouse was behind this door. We stepped into our treehouse, we closed the door behind us and we felt fine.
Everything was fine until it wasn’t. There was a rocking chair in our treehouse that was not there before. This rocking chair faced the wall and there was someone sitting in it. This someone had grey hair that hung down his back in stiff tangled curls, like rigor mortis snakes.
“It’s him,” Brian said. “What should we do?”
“Where should we go?” Simon said. “Should we run?”
“Where could we run?” Brian said. “What can we do?”
“We could build a new treehouse?” Charlotte said, her voice cracking.
“We could build a new room,” Brian said. He was nodding,
“We could build a door,” Simon suggested.
“Yes, a door,” Charlotte said, her voice starting to seal into itself again.
The rocking chair continued to rock. It rocked and rocked in its rhythm. He rocked. He rocked.
“A door,” Brian said.
“A door,” we all said. “A door.”
Elspeth Jensen earned her BA in Creative Writing from Western Washington University, and is currently pursuing an MFA at George Mason University. She is the Fiction Editor for Sweet Tree Review and the Assistant Poetry Editor for So to Speak. Her writing can be found or is forthcoming in journals such as the Bellevue Literary Review, Rust + Moth, Up the Staircase Quarterly, The Midway Review, The Penn Review, and elsewhere.