Winner, July 2013 KidPub Writing Contest
I feel a bit weird doing this thing. You know, logging this crazy occurrence that happened to me. Everyone still thinks it was some kind of hallucination from the excess amounts of fruit snacks I ingest, or that I had some kind of endearing teenage need for attention that I made it up. I don't know. Mom made me see a psychiatrist (Thanks for the support, Mom!) and he wisely said that writing it down would solve all my problems. Right.
It all started on a typical, moderately chilly Saturday morning for me. You'd think that by now I'd be able to sleep through the glorious, triumphant songs that those birds love so much. I decided to ignore the urge to scream at them back today, and tried to be in a good mood.
I tossed the thin covers off me and swung my body around to hop out of bed. Trying to rub the grogginess out of my eyes, I headed towards my mirror to make sure my hair didn't look completely like a raccoon attacked it with a pitchfork, so my little brother wouldn't have another reason to make fun of me. My hair is a weird auburn color, and too frizzy to be called curly, so it looks like that a lot.
I don't know what I expected to see in the mirror, but let's just say I didn't know I looked like that species of monster when I wake up. The thing in the mirror had dry, gray scales for skin and a flesh colored spike at the top of his head. It was basically an inside-out pencil. It's eyes looked as tired as mine, except it looked like someone had made a gash in the yellowish part of its eyes for pupils. It was a bit terrifying.
Other than that, I thought it would be a wonderful day.
I obviously had a lot of preparation for my encounter with this thing, with all of the Freaky Friday type movies I watched, so I did the whole “move-around-a-bit-thing-so-you-can-see-if-the-mirror-thing-will-follow-you.” It did. I drew in a shaky breath.
I studied it a bit more, and noticed the quantity of my bedroom mirror's monster's fingers. Eight. I instinctively jerked down my head to check my own hands. I started counting my fingers before I realized that they were my normal, human-looking fingers. I can be kind of an idiot whilst in panic. I breathed a short-lived sigh of relief before realizing that there still was a monster in my mirror.
I looked back up at it with a confused look. The monster noticed that fact, and had a tiny panic moment before darting to the right, leaving my view and mirror.
I tried to logically think it out. I might have been imagining it. But if I was, wouldn't my reflection be back in the mirror by now? In the mirror all I saw was the wall behind me, covered in watercolor paintings I've done. No half-asleep fourteen-year-old with a horrible case of bedhead to be seen. I think all forms of logic were out of the question by that point.
I hastily picked up the thick sweater that was strewn across my floor and pulled it on over the tank in which I slept and exchanged my cozy plaid pajama pants for jeans. I rolled up the cuff of the blue jeans since the only jeans I do get are hand-me-downs from our perfectly tall, unrealistically beautiful family friends. Not that I'm jealous or anything.
At this point I still had hope that the lack of sleep from staying up till four in the morning replaying old video games on my older brother's GameCube was the explanation for the mirror-monster. If only.
I decided not to look back into the mirror. Instead, I turned the handle, opened the door and shut it incredibly quickly behind me, as if that could keep the weirdo-monster inside.
As I made my way through the hallway, I already began to formulate the words that could make me sound insane, or just really confused. Before I could come up with a logical, believable explanation, I stepped into the kitchen.
I was greeted by friendly looking humans (thankfully) with the usual “Good morning, Eleanor,” and “Did you sleep well, honey?” But I didn't know these people. They looked like normal people. Normal people that I didn't recognize. The man sitting at the kitchen table had large glasses with tousled golden blonde hair and looked middle-aged, like the brunette woman sitting next to him, sipping a mug filled with something hot, probably coffee. I began executing something right in between hyperventilating and screaming quietly.
“There was a monster in my mirror,” I croak, after somewhat pulling my self back together. I tried to remember if they were some family friends or relatives that I completely forgot about.
The woman put down her mug onto the dark, wooden table and stood up, tying her fluffy pink bathrobe over her pajamas. “I told him to keep his projects to himself!”
Him...was she talking about my little brother? Did he send that thing to terrorize me? Well, love you too, little bro.
While this was going on, I was still trying to make sense of the situation.
“Whoa, Eleanor. What's wrong? You seem... a bit...” the man's voice trailed off.
“Discombobulated? Yeah. I feel discombobulated,” I said. “Who are you, pray tell?”
“Oh... so Eleanor really did get to that 'alternate-universe' she was on about,” he said to the woman, like he was playing along with some child's pretend story.
I thought about this for a bit. I had no idea whatsoever what was going on, so it took me a bit. “Wait. So I went to bed looking exactly like I do now?”
The woman took a long sip from her mug, obviously not hurrying to answer. “No, Eleanor. You look different than you did yesterday. We can shape-shift. No big deal. We know it's you because of your voice. Blah blah blah blah blah.” Her 'blahs' were interrupted by her need to somehow get the coffee in her system.
“Oh. So you guys are legitimately insane. Good to know.”
“I don't know, Valerie...” the man said. My heart dropped when he said 'Valerie.' That's my mother's name. I figured out then that if this did turn out to be real, the whole 'alternate-universe theory' made the most sense. “She seems like she's telling the truth.” They both looked at me, so I nodded encouragingly.
“Or she's planned this out for a year. Either one,” my mom-replacement said, after downing her mug.
“No, I promise! I have no idea what's going on and I really would like to,” I said, trying not to sound insane myself.
“She promised,” the man pointed out. Did that mean he was my dad?
“So you guys are weirdo, shape-shifting alien people, and you need all this convincing to believe that your daughter found her alternate-universe equivalent?” I said, hoping I was making some amount of sense.
“Yeah, since she does possess this handy dandy shape-shifting ability, I don't think she would choose this,” she gestured to me with her empty mug, “particular... form.”
I stared at her. “Are you going to actually help me get back or are you just going to make fun of me some more?”
“She did keep the tacky sweater, though,” observed my alternate-universe father, trying, unsuccessfully, not to laugh. It was weird. My parents were never like that. Ever. When they made jokes, the crickets didn't even bother to chime in.
Thankfully, I remembered Howard.
Howard has been my best friend forever, meaning, before even kindergarten. We used to make mud pies together, fry worms in the sun, eat Play-Doh, all that good kid stuff.
I left them in their middle school snickering session and put on my shoes that were right where I left them last night, ran through the kitchen, turned right into the picture-frame-covered living room, and pretty much slammed into the front door from how fast I was going. This made my “parents” laugh even harder between their hilarious remarks. Again, I ignored it and turned the handle and was out the door.
Outside, everything seemed the same as my regular, boring suburban neighborhood. Nearly identical brick houses with just enough shrubbery so the place wouldn't look bare. I tried to remember how many houses over across the street Howard's was.
I finally made my way up to the fancily-made, glass and wood, probably very expensive front door. I pushed the doorbell button on the right hand side of the door, and patiently waited, hoping his parents wouldn't answer.
Eventually the door swung open. A short blonde woman was behind it, leaning against the door, looking like she was about to fall asleep on me.
“Eleanor?” she said groggily.
“Yes! Well, sort of...” my voice trailed off at the end as I tried to think of the best explanation.
“Howard's in the backyard.”
“Thanks!” I replied cheerily as she retreated back into her den, leaving the door open for me.
I shut it behind me and navigated through his house to the backdoor. It smelled like cinnamon and some other spice. Like Christmas.
That could not be him. He was a tanned, dark brown haired, emerald green-eyed boy sitting calmly in a porch swing while writing or drawing something in a little book. He didn't even notice the creaking noise the backdoor made when I opened it. Howard could never concentrate on anything. This didn't make sense.
He only was awakened out of his daze when I was right in front of him, staring.
“Good morning,” I said.
“Well, good morning to you too, sunshine,” he said, closing his book and looking me in the eyes.
“Howard?” I asked, my eyes narrowed.
“The one and only,” he answered with a grin.
“Aren't you wondering how I got into your backyard?” I asked, still suspicious.
“No, girls come see me all the time. I'm used to it.”
I wasn't even sure if he was kidding. “It's Eleanor.”
“Figured. 'Sup, Buttercup?” he said.
“Stop that... with the nicknames. It's weird,” I said, not before slightly blushing.
He looked a bit more serious, his eyebrows furrowed. “What's the matter?”
I let it all spill out of me. “I'm Eleanor, but not the Eleanor you think I am, because there was this weird thing in my mirror and everyone can apparently shape-shift and I'm scared that I'm going crazy or everyone's just playing a big prank on me, and I'm scared.” I was trying not to cry. It was mainly from frustration, with a hint of confusion.
Howard was so different. In my world he was a goofy nerd who cared enough to talk to me when no one else would, would call me 'Elles' even though I hated it, go to midnight premieres of movies with me he obviously cared nothing about, sat through my constants rants about everything, and wore glasses too big for his head.
The other Howard motioned for me to sit down next to him on the swing. This Howard was oddly charming, and confident, like he was somewhat aware of his good looks.
“Eleanor, I mean, the old Eleanor, warned me about this. You're going to be fine,” he lifted my chin up with his knuckle gently. “I promise.” Any strawberry would be jealous of my redness at that moment. “She's been going on and on about these other worlds forever. She told me this would happen. Come on, we have to go to the library.” He stood up from the swing and held out his hand for me to take and slipped his book into his back pocket with his other hand.
We were walking side by side along the sidewalk and I was peppering him with questions. He told me we were going to the library because Eleanor met this really cool librarian who told her a bunch of stories of other people traveling between the alternate-universes.
“That's Mrs. Sartree! She loves telling stories!” I knew the librarians pretty well. That's something in which I take pride. Mrs. Sartree was that old lady that always wore a pink rose on her long white cardigan and smelled like paper.
“She has to be behind it,” Howard agreed.
“Can everyone shape-shift?” I asked, jumping subjects. I had a lot of things to worry about.
“No, but most people have some kind of an ability, and everyone has access to magic.”
“Do you have an ability?”
He answered by pulling his book out, opening it up, and whispering something to it. Slowly, pieces of popcorn began to fly out of it. He saw the shocked and wondering look on my face and asked, “What, do they not have magic in your world?”
When I shook my head it was his turn to look shocked.
“What do you do when you're hungry?”
“Not that,” I replied sorrowfully.
He laughed as we turned the corner. We could see the library now. It was rather small and boring, normal as ever.
Once we were at the automatic door of the library, he said, “You're going to be in for a treat.”
As soon as we walked in, I was overwhelmed by the color and enormity of the inside compared to the exterior. Like a tardis, I thought, wishing the other Howard were here so we could laugh about it.
It was overflowing with strange... people? I wasn't even sure if I could call them that. There was a blue-haired girl with small wings on her back, a man with goat-legs, and many other beings browsing through the shelves of books.
“We take our libraries seriously,” Howard said, nodding proudly.
“Let's go find Mrs. Sartree,” I decided.
We dodged the dive-bombing rainbow birds, weaved in and out of fairies and warlocks and whatever else there was in that unfamiliar place, and I finally spotted the set of desks where you could check out your books, with Howard struggling to keep up.
Thankfully, Mrs. Sartree was there, and the minute her eyes locked on mine, she laughed to herself as she finished checking out an elf that was too short to even reach the counter. The old lady slid his book over the counter's edge and the elf luckily caught it and walked away happily.
“Good afternoon, young lady,” Mrs. Sartree said, a twinkle in her cloudy gray eyes.
“So you know what I'm about to say, right?” I asked, leaning against the counter. Howard caught up and stood next to me.
“Hold on a moment, if you will,” Mrs. Sartree said before hobbling over to a dark, wooden cane and, walking more easily with the cane's help, made her way over to us. She didn't say anything more, but motioned for us to follow her. Howard was glad he could keep up with her. We followed her, trying to be as quiet as possible. Our guide was a librarian, after all. We knew how to keep them happy.
The three of us walked for a bit, passing shelves upon shelves of multicolored hard and paperback books and weird, otherworldly decorations (because it's another world... ha).
I looked at Howard and all he did was give me an encouraging smile, like this was perfectly fine and dandy.
She was leading us towards the back corner, a weird section of the library where no one really knew what kind of books belonged there. The old attic of the library. Books were overflowing everywhere. They were on the floor in stacks and crammed into any free space on the shelf.
“Well, here we are!” the grandmother said cheerfully. I almost thought she was just going to tell us how the real portals to different worlds were through reading! And imagination! I was about to puke.
Mrs. Sartree's mouth curled into a smile as she pulled a book off the shelf. It was emerald green leather with golden details and rather large, and I wondered if the old, frail librarian could even hold the thing up. She cracked open the spine to page three hundred ninety-four as Howard and I leaned over it, trying to read its tiny print.
“Eleanor found this particular book yesterday. She has been searching for it for ages; she was so triumphant when she found it. Here, let me read what she showed me,” she pulled a pair of triangular spectacles out of her old lady dress-pocket and set them on her large nose. I figured the entry would be something cryptic and mysterious, as things like that often are.
“There's a hallway you can find behind this bookshelf. Go through it,” Mrs. Sartree read dramatically.
I laughed hysterically, so relieved. Howard laughed as well, but primarily at me.
“The rest of the book is blank. There is no title. A librarian's worst nightmare,” she shivered, “how do we catalog it?” Mrs. Sartree left us there, and walked away with her cane, not saying another word.
“Now how are we going to move this?” I said, sizing up the competition.
“I don't know, it's going to be impossible if we don't move all the books off,” he said, nodding.
It wasn't all the way up against the wall, so I pushed on it, just to see if anything would happen. It swayed backwards before returning to its regular position. “Well, I don't know what just happened, but I think we can make it work,” I noted, grinning.
Howard pulled a book off the shelf and he did that weird, spasm thing that people do when something is lighter than you think it's going to be. He tossed it to me, and I braced for a normal book weight, but it felt like I was holding a piece of paper. I opened the book. It had no words in it whatsoever, and the paper didn't feel like paper at all.
“They're all like this,” Howard said, taking off a couple more books.
“This is so mysterious. The whole bookshelf was created for the purpose of being moved... for us to find the hallway,” I said, putting back the book.
Howard pushed it aside, and I stood there watching. A door was being revealed, with purple, orange, and red swirls on the glass part of it; the wooden section dark word. A sentence was carved into it with something like a knife: 'This is that hallway I was talking about.'
“Is your world always like this?” I half-laughed.
“Pretty much,” Howard sighed.
We stood there for a moment, taking in the mystique of the door itself. “I don't think I should go in there,” Howard said.
I nodded. “You belong in this world.”
“Well, goodbye,” he said, squeezing my hand encouragingly.
“I'm going to see you as soon as I get back. A different you.”
I smiled at him and turned to the door. I touched the golden handle with the tip of my fingers and it swung open eagerly. It looked completely dark inside.
I wasn't really scared before then, but I felt like my heart was crawling up to meet my throat. As soon as I was all the way inside, I turned back to look at Howard, but the door slammed shut. I was surrounded in complete blackness for about three seconds, then a light bulb flickered on. It revealed a carpeted floor that looked like it belonged in Aladdin and a seemingly infinite hallway. That little bulb lit up way too much space to be legitimate. I didn't care. I had so many possibilities, so many doors, so many worlds that were accessible.
The doors were all different, all beautifully unique and I was so excited that one of them would lead me home. I took one step and the first door flew open. It felt like my heart exploded when a tall girl with perfect blonde curls stepped into the hallway.
“Eleanor?” she said hopefully.
“Oh my gosh,” I said, “Next time can you warn me when you're going to teleport me to a magical world?”
“Sorry,” she said with a smile. “I didn't know this, but only a pair, like us, cannot coexist in a world. You were taken to my world when I entered yours. Sorry,” she repeated, pushing up her glasses. I had always wanted glasses like those.
Then, everything became clear. My parents want to be funny. They are in that world. Howard probably wants to be charming and handsome. He is in that world. That world showed everyone as how they wanted to be, however superficial that certain desire is.
She has perfect, acne-free skin, I observed. “It's okay. At least we can get back.” I wanted to say some quick, witty remark, but I was still too proud of myself for figuring that out to be funny.
“Well, let's not get too attached to each other, because this is probably the only time we'll ever see each other... so bye,” she turned around and opened the door to her world. A world of magic.
I could have gone literally anywhere, all alone in an infinite hallway, but right then I wanted to go to my world. A world of unfunny parents and a dorky Howard. So, I opened up the door and stepped into a boring, fairy-less library, with Mrs. Sartree shushing me as soon as I stepped in.