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Grade
9

This house has intrigued me for months. Obsessed, as my twin BFFs Charlotte and Will said. It almost controls me.

     “Althea, why are you still on this?” -Charlotte sighed- “There is nothing there!” It’s May. I first noticed the house in January. Something about it is off. I know it’s wrong, but it’s taken its hold on me. It always looks….blurry? But nothing else has ever looked blurry. My eyes are fine, I don’t need glasses, but somehow that house is blurry.

     “What are you talking about? Of course there is! I see it every day as I drive to school!” I replied, exasperated. I say this a little too loud in the crowded cafeteria, and some people at the table next to us give me a look. It’s not a friendly one. The twins look at each other like tired parents who are trying to convince the other that it’s their turn to calm their screaming child.

    “Al, nobody knows what you’re talking about,” says Will.

    “Fine” I reply. “I’ll just have to show you.”

 

    Surprisingly, they agree. Well, Will did first, and then had to convince Charlotte. They agree that this was the only way to get me off of this. I direct them to Plum Street, which is where the house is.

     “Still don’t know what you’re talking about, Al.”  

“Trust me.” I tell them “You just have to focus.” Took fifteen-ish minutes until either of them said anything, and Will is first.

    “It’s starting to look blurry.”

I hear his breathing speeding up, so I make him look away for a bit. He sits on the passenger seat in the car, facing outward towards us. He props his head in his hands, and his feet on the running board on the side of the car. I stand with Charlotte because she’s still staring at the house. I put her in the car. After an hour out on the sidewalk and then back into the car to rest, Charlotte pierces the silence with      

    “Imagine how crazy we must look to the neighbors.”

    “Yeah. Just a bunch of hooligans staring at the air. Better watch out, they’re probably just as crazy as us,” I reply.

    “But which is worse? The neighbors being able to see it, or not seeing it at all?

Will chimes in,

    “ How could the people across the street from it not see it? They’ve been exposed to it for so long?”

I don’t know how to answer Will’s question. But then, as I’m looking along the street, I notice that there’s a good number of “for sale” signs in the yards along the sidewalk.

    “I don’t think that many people who move here actually stay for very long.”-I pause- “ In fact, I swear not a week goes by that I don’t see a moving truck here.” I continually scan the area until the twins both say that they can see the house- albeit a bit blurry. They both seem a little off, probably because of the effects of...whatever this place is… but Will wants to try the door. We climb out of the car.

    “Are you crazy?” Charlotte cries.  She doesn’t budge. She refuses.

    “Char, we gotta see what’s in there.”

    “Yeah! I’ve been waiting to go in ever since I first told you about it! Now I know that I’m not crazy”- but then I mumble- “ At least, if I am, you are too.” Then, silence.

    “Okay, fine. We’re still going in”-Will tells her-“whether or not you join us.” We steel ourselves and walk towards the door. I keep searching for her footsteps on the sidewalk, but they never come. We open the door and peer inside. I take a final look at Charlotte, who is sitting in the passenger seat, looking at her phone. Probably social media. She’s never off it.

 

    “This place gives me the creeps.”

    “What’d you expect? A five star hotel?”

    “Well, no. Not really sure what I expected.”

This hallway is dark and musty. We walk into the first room on our right. It is painted a bright yellow and smells like lavender. I look out through the window.

    “Aw, come on!” Will is startled by my exasperation, and I hear him jump.

    “Althea”- he sighs- “You’re gonna give me a heart attack! As if this place wasn’t weird eno-” He stops at the window with me. Then he groans, “Seriously? She left us?” I back away slowly as I go to look out the door to see if I can see where she-

    “It’s gone…!”

    “What do you mean? What’s gone?”

He sees it too. The door isn’t here, just a wall. I see him turn to check the window as I feel the wall, hoping for some sort of crack or hole or opening where the door-

Thud.

    “Wi-”

He didn’t go far, and I almost step on him.  Now we’re in a tiny room with red walls and a metallic smell. It’s barely wide enough for the two of us. How? We panic and bang on the walls, screaming. I don’t think anyone can hear us. And then-

Bong, bong, bong tolls an unseen bell. I can’t keep my eyes open.

 

    I’m in a room I’ve never seen before. It smells of the sea and is pale blue. I sit up on the dusty white and blue rug, but my head spins. I lay down and recall who I am.

Althea Bea Zannis. 17, birthday- May 7, 2001. Lived in Maine ‘til I was 8. The colors of the trees, the lakes, the mountains, our home, so vivid. Dad stayed at home with me when I was young, and Mom was a lawyer. They loved gardening, and so did I, and one day Mom quit and told me we’re moving. They were tired of their life of Portland and wanted to become farmers. I thought this was absolutely insane. Still do. But we moved anyway. To Iowa. Of all the places! I tried and tried but no amount of begging, screaming, crying did anything. Off we went. The first few months were hard but I didn’t expect them to be easy. A week after we moved, I finally went to school. You know how it is, no one talks to the new kid. Until Will did. I can’t remember what he looked like, but I remember how kind he was. Him and Charlotte were somewhat outcasts too, only had each other, so they talked to me, and we were outcasts together. We got along so well. Birthdays, school dances, movie marathons, everything we did, we did together. We were fine until I saw the house. The first time I saw a blur, but I shrugged it off. Then I noticed that the blur in my eyes only showed up at that spot. So every day while on my way to school, I would stare at it. The more I passed it, the more I started to notice the shape and color of it. I’d see it, I’d think about it all the time, and my friends noticed. My family was so busy with the farming and our little shop, they didn’t notice. I guess that’s good. If I die in this place, I hope they just continue with the life we- they made here. They won’t ever know what happened. They won’t know what happened! I gotta get out of here!

Okay okay okay, calm down a sec. I do a mental check.

Everything seems fine, but my head is still spinning.

Okay, slowly, slowly. I sit up, but I wrestle my head in my arms, doing what I can to steady it. I look up, once again checking my limbs (nothing abnormal), and then looking at the room some more. There’s a window with light coming through, but I can’t see anything else out there. There’s two doorways; one small one that leads to the hallway, and a wider doorway that leads to an equally-sized room, which has some cabinets with ceramic dishes in them. There’s something written on them, but in a language that I can not identify. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m thinking, wondering what that could be, if even human? I’m drowning in my thoughts when I realize that there are footsteps coming from the hallway. They are slow, coming to a stop, but when they start again, they are fast, running, panicked. I hide on the far side of the cabinet, against the wall. The runner grows near, and darts into my room. Though he was lost in my mind, he’s back! Wait, who is he?

    “Al?”

    “... Will?”

I walk towards him. But he commands, “Stop. Hold out your arm.”

    “What? Why?”

    “Clones. It’s been studying us, it’s used you against me. The clones are solid wood.”

He squeezes my arm and seems satisfied with his data, and I do the same. Feels human, I guess? He tells me that he’s been looking for me, and came across a few clones. He’s learned tricks to tell human from clone. I don’t tell him that I’ve already forgotten him.

    “How long have you been up? How many clones have you dealt with?”

    “Eh. Five-ish. When did you get up?”

    “Um. Now.”

He has a look of shock and sympathy. I’m confused. How long have I been asleep? And nothing happened to me? I guess we just… move on and survive? I ask him what he’s done to survive, what methods he has to escape.

    “Well, I wanted to find you before I got out. I didn’t think I’d be able to find you if I left. I’ve been forgetting things, Al. I didn’t want to forget you too.”

I’m glad he didn’t leave. I could’ve died. We talk about some strategies on how to get out of here.

    “Basically, it’s run until we find a door.”

    “So that’s what we’ll do then.”

    “So...clones?”

“Yeah, as weird as it sounds. I heard footsteps once, and followed them, ya know, out of curiosity. I turned the corner, and see ‘you’.” He put air quotes around the last part.

“We talked, and it was like you. I thought it was real. I thought it was you. One time, the walls started to close, and so I had grabbed y- it’s hand, but I freaked when I felt it. It was solid wood. I tried to rip my hand away, but it had snaked its fingers around my hand, so I just kept pulling ‘til I was free, and I just kept running. The rest of the times I was fooled I was more brainless than I care to admit. So now I make sure they’re not wood. Though it’s getting smarter.”

He seems bothered, so I drop it.

So we start wandering through the halls, running when the walls shut, and we stay near each other. This takes years, or what feels like years, we don’t know since we feel no difference. There is no time here. The seconds tick on, but no calendars, no months, nothing. Just the running, racing. Their only finish line is the end of us. We do what we can to pass the never-ending time.

    We grow weary, but we never sleep. It’s not necessary. No sleeping, no eating, and yet we never change. Every so often, we find beds, but even when we try, sleep never comes. It has been banned from this house. All we can hope for is an escape, and a while without these jumbled walls shuffling. Sometimes they change around the two of us. If we are in a green, peppermint-scented room, we’ll sometimes blink and now it’s pink and lemon-scented, yet it won’t hurt us in the rooms. It knows we will go in the halls. It’s just a game for it.

“Run, Al!”

The walls have tried to suck us in. We make sure that we never are too far from the other so they can’t separate us. Occasionally the walls will open up on us while we have our backs to them. Once the wall grabbed my arm, Will got again.

    “How long do you think we’ve been in here?”

     “Don’t know. My phone doesn’t work”

    “Same here.”

I leaned against the wall. We had just gotten out of a closing hallway.

    “Al. Come off that wall. You know what happens.”

    “I know, I know, but I don’t feel too well.”

He questions me, trying to see if I’m sick, but this is just a weak time. We’ve been doing a lot of running. We talk and analyze what the walls have been doing.

    “I think there’s a patt-”

He’s stopped by my scream. What had at first been a light scratching feeling had become the burning pain of thousands of needles, piercing and snaking through my arm. I try to tear it away, but then it squeezes on top of my arm. I yelp as the splinters feel their way through my arm, moving in and up towards my chest to presumably, my brain. I move as much of myself away from the wall as I can, and Will pulls me further. I push my leg against the wall to pry my arm away from the wooden “snakes”. The more I push away from the wall, the more of the splinters I can see being pulled from my arm.

    “Al, keep going! I won’t let go!”

    “Yeah, you better not!”

I pull free and we run to the nearest room. I check my arm, and it’s covered in blood and tiny holes from the splinters.

    “Geez. Are you ok? Like, besides the fact you’re bleeding?”

    “Yeah. I think I got them all out. I don’t feel them anymore. Can you find something for this?”

He rips the sheets and pillowcase from a bed.

     “Here. Wipe it off with this.”-He grabs the string holding the curtains back- “Wrap it with the pillowcase and I’ll help you tie it with this.”

    “Thanks.”

Again, I probably would’ve died without him.

    “I’m gonna check the hallway, see if we can move. After that, I don’t wanna stay here much longer.”

I agree with him and he walks into the hallway, as I tend to my mangled arm. And then he screams.

    “Will? Will!”

I’m already too late. His screams of agony are muffled by the splinters and planks crawling over his face. I’m pulling, screaming, crying, pounding and punching the wall, praying it will let him go. I know there’s nothing I can do, and I need to get into a room so the walls don’t get me too. All I can do is keep myself safe and not think about his screams, his agony, torment, the burning pains that cover him and-

Bong, bong, bong…

No no no, I can’t! Don’t… I don’t…

State
PA
Zip Code
17603