Posted by: Kathryn Hulick | March 15, 2008

Doorface

Sovetskaya, Kyrgyzstan. November 5, 2004.

Doorface

Alec and I found the abandoned shed on a hot day in September. It was broiling hot, like August had come back for a second chance at roasting us alive. Up on the third floor of the school, that wasn’t an exaggeration. The windows were all crusted shut by years of over-painting, and we watched the blackboard shimmer through waves of crushing heat. One girl fainted, and that’s when they let us out early.

Most of us didn’t have phones, so it would take at least two hours for word to get around town that school was out. Those were two precious hours to ourselves. No hoeing rows of corn or picking bugs off tomatoes while sweat drenched our hair. Not this time. Alec and I were going to the river.

A whole horde of boys had the same plan, and the usual swimming hole was full of slippery arms and legs wrestling for the best spot. It hadn’t rained much since June, so the water was murky brown and too warm to cool prickly hot skin.

“Come on, Ivan, let’s get out of here.” Alec was the tallest boy in our class, and perhaps because of that always acted a few years older. Also, he was his parent’s only child. All the rest of us had at least three or four siblings. I had five, and most of them sisters. It was the best day of my life when Alec chose me out of all the boys in fifth grade to be his partner in the election for class president. I knew I’d never be invisible again.

Alec walked ahead of me. Past the swimming hole, the river thinned to a quick moving torrent. No hope of swimming here. Especially after a boy our age drowned a few years ago trying to cross on a dare. We splashed our arms and faces, and kept on.

Alec and I saw the tree at the same time. It had fallen recently–the roots were still white and shiny where they reached up to the sky. The top branches brushed against the far side of the river–a perfect bridge in a place no one had ever crossed before.

Alec grinned and I smiled back, but inside I felt the first quiver of fear. Sure, the tree was strong and sturdy but there was a big jump from those thin top branches to the opposite shore. And I’d never had great balance. But there was no way I could let Alec know I was afraid. I pulled myself up near the roots and started creeping across, trying not to look down at the turbulent white and brown roar of the river.

I was stuck in the center, trying to decide which tapering branch had the least chance of dropping me to my death, when I saw something odd in the distance.

“You see that?” I shouted back to Alec, hoping he could hear me over the river.

“Sure do,” he was right behind me, holding on to the tree with white knuckles.

I kept my eyes of the shape, a whitish rectangle rising from the trees, as I inched along my chosen branch. A quick leap, heart in my throat, and I was back on land. Only after my feet hit the dirt did I realize how much of a challenge it would be to get back up to those branches again.

Right now, that didn’t matter. Alec walked right behind me this time as we approached the building. No one lived out here, as far as we knew. The river changed course slightly every summer, and dried up in the winter except at the widest parts. It was foolishness to build too close. But this shed looked like it had been here as long as the distant mountains. It was the same color as the light gray river rocks and leaned slightly to one side.

But far stranger than all that was the door. It was open, and painted on the inside was a face. Sure, it looked like a face my youngest sister could have painted, but it had fangs inside its oval mouth, and I could have sworn it was looking right at me.

Part 2: Frog in Hand 

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  1. […] Part 1: Doorface […]

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