You’d never know it existed, looking at the house from the outside. Poking around inside would only cement your disbelief, but it’s there. Somehow, although the footprint of the house doesn’t seem to allow for it, it’s there, tucked away in a feat of architectural genius.
We first discovered it just before my baby brother was born. Dad got it into his head that we needed more space. He wanted to move his study, which occupied a small room at the end of the second-floor hallway, downstairs to make room for my baby brother’s nursery. He was shocked, to say the least, when instead of bursting out into the sunlit side yard, the north wall of the living room fell away to reveal another room.
This secret chamber, sealed up for who knows how long, was perfectly empty, save for a generous coating of dust. A closed door stood in the opposite wall, and it was lit by a single window. Everything, from the ceiling to the hardwood floor, was painted white. The discovery seemed to do a number on Dad’s nerves. He was very much a man-is-king-of-his-castle sort of guy, and it bothered him deeply to not know every inch of his home. The window and door especially had him perturbed. The window, as best as we could figure, couldn’t be seen from outside. The door was the worst, however, for it hinted at further unknown depths to the house that we’d never before suspected.
As a young, excited little boy, it was only Dad’s unease that held my exploratory urges in check. I remember him staring at that door, the gears of his mind almost audible as they churned through all the possible explanations. The construction work was put on hold as he tackled the mystery, darting in and out of the house, taking measurements and studying angles. At last he let us in on his calculations: “Well, I don’t know. It adds up…sorta…not really.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” commented Mom, her brow furrowed as she tried to interpret his clueless conclusion.
Dad seemed not to hear. He stepped cautiously into the white room and bent over the windowsill. “Something’s off,” he grunted. “I shouldn’t be able to see the neighbors’ garage from here.”
Mom made a vague suggestion about funny angles, which Dad seemed to swallow for the time being as his eyes flew furtively toward the closed door in the far wall. Even the doorknob was white. “How far does it go?”
I fell asleep that night with his question cycling through my head. To find one hidden room was exciting enough, but the possibility that there were more…
That door promised adventure, and it was an offer my boyish heart couldn’t resist. I got up early the next morning and ran downstairs, eager to get a peek into the secret room before breakfast, before Dad’s construction crew showed up to start working. Making straight for the closed door, I wrapped my fingers around the knob—it was made of wood—and paused. I remembered briefly seeing my Dad’s unease, but with the sunlight from the window warming my back it seemed silly. The wooden ball turned easily in my grip, and with only the softest squeak the door opened.
I found myself in another room, nearly identical to the last one. Everything was white, there was another door directly opposite the one I stood in, and a window warmed the entire scene, but this time from the other direction.
Two secret rooms, and maybe a third!
My home had become a fairy tale castle in my mind, a pirate fortress, a fantastical realm. Every boy dreamed of such places, filled with hidden passages just waiting to be explored. I was the lucky one whose dream came true. The second door opened, just as I’d guessed, on a third, then a fourth, a fifth. It didn’t occur to me that it made no sense, that from the outside I should’ve been well into the neighbor’s yard by now. I only knew the thrill of discovery. What would I find at the end? Treasure forgotten by the years, waiting for my stubby little fingers to polish off the dust?
It was in the sixth room that I paused and glanced over my shoulder. I could see the distant living room, normal and boring, and I thought it looked very homey. A noise signaled the beginning of breakfast. The scent of eggs made its lazy way down the chain of empty rooms after me. Mom would call me back soon, and part of me was anxious to hear her voice. Why? The scent of adventure was strong in my nostrils, stronger than the feeble aroma of eggs sizzling several worlds away. I could have eggs anytime; why should I abandon my expedition for something so mundane as breakfast?
Yet as I turned to face the next white door, my heart remained looking back to that familiar living room. Why this door? It looked exactly the same as the five that came before it. Why did it alone seem to dampen my adventurous spirit?
Just one more, I thought, then I’ll go back.
The seventh room was the same, but different. So very different. There was no window, no door on the far side. Instead, a rickety dresser leaned precariously against one wall, and a messily made bed occupied one corner. Every space in between was stuffed with either blankets or—and it was quite a shock to see so many all in one place—dolls. Some were the plush sort, with button eyes and seams spilling guts of clouds; others were made of harder stuff, ceramic with eyes of sparkling glass. The air in this last room was stuffy, likely because it was a dead end without even a window for ventilation.
I admit, I was disappointed. I’d expected to find something more exciting than a few old pieces of furniture and a chaotic collection of toys and laundry. Still, I took a moment to look around. Maybe, in that dark slit between the bed and the floorboards, something was hidden.
I was on my knees, crawling forward through the dust when it happened. A distant bang, then another, louder. Bang, bang, bang, bang! Frightened, I spun around in time to see the last of the doors slam shut, plunging me into darkness.
You may be surprised to know I didn’t scream. I think I was too shocked. After a moment of utter blindness, the light from the previous room’s window managed to work its way under the door, and my eyes adjusted. I could see well enough—well enough to regain my feet, well enough to catch my tiny reflection in the dolls’ eyes, well enough to notice something swelling on the bed.
It was like something was inflating beneath the blankets, rising up through the dust-impregnated mattress. The wonder was gone. All thoughts of treasure and adventure evaporated as I scrambled back from the bed, fumbling for the doorknob as I watched the heavy sheets fall away from the materializing form.
I clenched my eyes shut as the door opened, letting in the sunlight. I turned my back and ran, slamming the door shut again behind me. I didn’t care what secrets that seventh chamber held anymore. I didn’t care about anything except the numbers as I reopened the rooms and shut them up again, counting down as I went: Six…five…four…three…two…one—
I screeched to a halt. I should’ve been back in my living room. My nose should’ve been full of the smell of scrambled eggs. I should’ve heard Mom’s voice calling me to the table. Instead, I faced another door, just like the last. Maybe I counted wrong.
The door opened. Another white room. And another after that.
I stood panting in terror as I puzzled over my dilemma. Eight rooms behind me, I heard doors opening and closing, each sequence louder than the last. It’s coming! With no other alternative, I opened the next door and kept running. The chain of chambers went on and on. I lost count, certain only that there were far more than there’d been on my way in. They just went on and on without end, each one exactly the same. My tiny legs grew tired, and finally I stumbled and fell, scraping my knee against the rough wood floor.
I began to whimper as I listened to my pursuer’s progress, marked by the steady rhythm of creeaak, BANG…creeaak, BANG. I was trapped in an impossible labyrinth, hunted by something that had been waiting untold years for a curious little boy to come exploring. A sob escaped me as the bangs got closer. I couldn’t run anymore. It was going to get me.
The doorknob behind me rattled, began to turn. I spun to face the agent of my doom, and as the door cracked open I screamed the only thing I could think of, the only name that could bring comfort to a frightened child: “Mommy!”
“What is it?”
I turned back in the direction of my hopeless flight—back toward what I knew had been just another in the endless line of sinister doors, but which now was the rectangular hole Dad and his crew had knocked in the living room wall. Mom was standing there, her face riddled with concern. I burst into tears.
Dad’s project didn’t make it very far. His crew ended up patching the hole, once more sealing away the seven—or more than seven?—secret rooms. He and Mom agreed to just let the baby share their room until he got older, then he’d move in with me. I told them what I’d seen, but I know they didn’t believe me. I think the reason for the project’s cancellation had more to do with Mom not wanting her living room trashed by the construction crew. Dad said she should’ve mentioned that before they started, but in the end he caved.
I hated the living room after that, and I always clung to the south wall whenever I had to pass through. Sometimes, late at night while I tried to sleep, I thought I heard the sound of doors slamming.