by Leilani Winfrey
It’s crazy how fast life can make sharp turns, whether they’re for the better or for the worse. You never know what to expect. I was sitting on my bed, sketching new drawings while nodding my head to the rhythm of a song. Rays of sunlight beamed in through an open window. A muffled shout could be heard from downstairs. It was hard to make out what was said, but it was recognizably Mom’s voice. I pulled out my earbuds.
I let out a sigh as I set my things on the bed and made my way downstairs. We had only been here for a few days; boxes were still around the house here and there. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the place. The house is nice, but fifty states, and my mom chose Texas? While heading downstairs, I noticed that there was audible chatter between two people coming from the living room, one of which was Mom and the other being a familiar voice. It couldn’t be Markus. He was out with his friends for the entire day. I reached the bottom of the stairs and entered the room. Mom and the girl on the couch both paused their conversation and turned my way.
“Hey Rowan!” the girl exclaimed upon what seemed to be studying my appearance.
It didn’t take long before I realized who it was. “Caroline?” She nodded. It really was her! Caroline was my childhood best friend; the last time I saw her, I was about twelve. Mom had mentioned that Caroline moved to Texas a while back, but I had no clue that she meant here.
“You live In Houston?” I asked.
“No, just visiting. I’ve got some family that lives here.”
Finally, Mom spoke up, “Well, I saw that they were in town from a post, so I reached out and figured this would be a nice surprise.”
Caroline stood up from the couch. I immediately rushed over and gave her a hug. Caroline and I later went up to my room. We talked for what felt like hours; anyone who didn’t know any better would think we talked all of the time. We went on about things from back when we were little, all the way to gossip about the current times. It was slightly awkward for a bit, but after getting comfy, we were chatting it up.
“Y’know what would be fun?” Caroline asked me after a pause of silence.
“No, what?” I replied.
“If we had a sleepover again like we used to before I went outta town.”
It did sort of sound like a fun idea, but I highly doubted that my mom would agree to that on such short notice. On top of that, we just barely settled into the place. I spoke up.
“I mean, we could ask, but she’s not going to agree,” I told Caroline.
Caroline looked as if I had just said the most absurd thing in the world.
“C’mon, Rowan, let’s ask at least.”
“Fine, you ask, though.”
Caroline nodded, and we made our way back downstairs to ask Mom about it.
“Sure, that’s fine. I’ll have to call Caroline’s parents and take her to get her belongings as well.” That was Mom’s response.
Caroline gave me the smuggest smile. I was surprised by how quickly Mom agreed. I wasn’t complaining, though.
The phrase “time flies when you’re having fun” is probably one of the realest things I’ve ever heard. It felt too real even… I remember slowly opening my eyes. I woke up on the floor of my room, next to my bed. The blinds were partially open, letting enough light in for me to realize that it was morning time. I must have been out cold last night, I thought to myself. I was not quite sure what I was even doing. That’s when it hit me. What were we doing? I looked around the room from where I was seated on the floor.
“Um, Caroline?” There was no response.
She was not in my bed. As a matter of fact, she was not present in the room at all. Assuming she was already up and about the house, I got up and checked my phone. There were no new messages, and the time displayed 12:34. That made me wonder, how late was I up exactly? Shortly after, I took my phone with me and headed downstairs in search of Caroline.
I walked around for a while and even called out Caroline’s name a few times. After circling the house for some time, I decided to find Mom instead. She, too, was absent, although this wasn’t unusual, being that she often runs errands in the morning. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and sent a message to Mom and Caroline asking about their whereabouts.
Putting up my phone, I sat down on the living room couch. I should just wait it out, I thought to myself. Mom would get home and then I could ask her. She probably dropped Caroline off already or maybe even went to run an errand with her. I sat on the couch for a half hour. That’s when I realized that things were coming back to me. All the pieces were beginning to fit back into place. The attic. It was late. Me and Caroline both had pj’s on. What happened was we were playing a game of truth or dare, and Caroline had dared me to open the attic door. I got a step stool and quietly lowered the ladder. I let her into the attic first; you could not physically force me to go into an unfamiliar dark room looking for a light switch. After she climbed up, it was all a blur. I’m not sure about the rest, but I had a feeling the attic would at least hold some clues.
I stepped out of the living room and went to the upstairs hallway. After getting the step stool out of the closet, I placed it below the attic door, got on my tippy toes, and began to lower the ladder. Once it was down, I straightened it the best I could, making sure that it was stable. I slowly began to climb the ladder up into the attic, getting more anxious with every step I took. I reached the top before I knew it and poked my head into the dark room. It was almost pitch black apart from the small light entering through the door. There was just enough light for the switch to be visible. I flipped it from the ladder and a dim ceiling light brightened the room.
The attic was very warm. Boxes of belongings and furniture were neatly sorted. I climbed all the way up into the attic and continued to scan the room. Although I had not shuffled through anything, still, I was close to positive that Caroline was not in the room. The area is open enough for it to be nearly impossible to hide in. Apart from the boxes that we had up there, I saw nothing out of place, like belongings that may have been left behind. Searching in the attic truly was not getting me anywhere and that was the only lead that I had. With no luck, I climbed back down. Something felt off.
After getting halfway down the ladder, a force pulled me down, or maybe up? I lost my grip and tumbled back into the attic, landing on the ceiling.
I did not move from that spot for a while, feeling startled and disoriented. That’s when I looked up and saw that the attic door was now above me. I stood up; it was odd. All the boxes and things were still sitting on the floor, but I was standing on the ceiling. It looked as if it would be a hassle to get up to the door. I walked along the slanted ceiling in an attempt to climb my way up to the opening. With a jump, I grabbed the frame and pulled myself up and onto the second floor’s ceiling with a bit of struggle. All the furniture was still on the floor, just as the things in the attic were still in place. I looked around, taking in the odd view of our house as I approached a window. It was open, and I poked my head out. That’s when I realized something. I was not what was upside down… it was the house itself.
As I continued to walk around, there were marker scribbles on the wall. These read things such as “only one can leave, go, run, be first.” My stomach sank as I read the writing. I remember telling myself not to worry too much about it.
I jumped and turned as I heard my name called quietly from behind me. There Caroline was, standing in the hallway in front of the closet door. I froze and said not a word. A crazy idea popped into my head. Caroline spoke up.
“Rowan, is that really you?”
I nodded my head in response.
“Why did you lead me up here?” she questioned.
“You asked me to open the attic. I never told you to go in it.”
Caroline did not attempt to argue against that. It was true.
“Where are we?”
“I know nothing more than you.”
It felt as if I was being interrogated with all that she was questioning.
She looked me up and down before asking, “Do you know where the exit is?”
“I do, actually,” I responded.
Her eyes widened for a second before asking, “Where is it?”
I walked over to the closet behind Caroline and opened the door for her.
In what seemed to be a hurry, she quickly stepped into the closet. With that, I shut it behind her and made a run for it.
Loud banging could be heard from behind me. I heard the door fly open, too, after a while. I didn’t look back, not once. I just kept running for the attic.
“Rowan, come back!” she shouted at me as I continued to run.
I quickly dropped back down into the room as soon as I got there and looked up at the door. I could hear her footsteps approaching the attic, and then they suddenly stopped. My heart was racing. I just knew that she was going to jump down. Yet, she didn’t. The silence was broken when I fell once again. This time from the attic ceiling to its floor. I fell onto the boxes. While it had hurt my side, I was too worked up, in the moment, to worry about it.
I began climbing down the attic ladder, trembling slightly. Still feeling shaken up, I looked around the room once more. There was nothing like the writing that was in the upside-down house. This was my real home. I let the ladder back up as I caught my breath. That girl couldn’t have been Caroline. I vividly remembered watching her enter the attic in pajamas. Her daytime clothes from yesterday are what she… that thing wore.
I rushed downstairs in the hope of Mom being there. Upon entering the main room, I saw that Mom was speaking to someone on the phone, and standing right beside her was…
“There you are! Where were you?” Mom asked as she felt relieved and told whoever was on the phone that I was found. Caroline gave me a hug and I wrapped my arms around her. It was nice to have her back. “Don’t do that again, okay, Rowan? Only I can leave.”