This is a work of fiction.
“What time do you need to go back downstairs?” Grace asks.
“Not until about ten.”
“Oh good. I haven’t talked frankly with anybody except Peter and the kids since before we moved here.”
“I don’t understand.”
“My customers are wonderful, but if they knew, they might not be.”
“If they knew?”
“About the four people who live downstairs.”
“We had to run for our lives.”
She takes a sip of coffee.
“Why?” I say. “What happened?”
“I still don’t really understand. I mean, I sort of do, but not truly. I don’t think I ever will. The girls were playing with some other kids. It all went well until Purple and Anna, my best friend’s daughter, disappeared.”
“Disappeared? Do you mean they were kidnapped?”
She shakes her head.
“No. I mean, that’s what we all thought, but no. They were sitting at a picnic table one minute, and the next minute, they were gone. The police came, questioned everybody, and we all thought some . . . monster had taken them. They were gone for three days.
“Anna’s mom, Brooke, took some pills. I had three other little kids and couldn’t afford to sleep while the police searched for Anna and Purple.”
“Do you call them by the color of their shirts like I do?”
“They asked me to do that until they were ready to tell you their names.”
“Somehow, I kept it together for those days that went on like weeks, months, maybe even years. They came back. Just like that, they were there by that picnic table, and Anna was crying for her mom, who was still drugged to the nines.”
“What about Anna’s dad?”
“He walked away when Anna was a tiny ball of cells. Peter had to work because his boss didn’t believe in anything like compassionate leave, so I stayed until Anna’s mom became more aware of what was going on.”
She takes a deep breath.
“Did you say Anna’s mom was your best friend?”
“Yes, with great emphasis on the past tense. Brooke and I met in high school. After what happened, she . . . I think she wanted to kill Purple.”
“What happened? Where did they go for three days?”
“They went into another world.”
“Purple called it a bubble. That game is the reason my kids have never been to a swimming pool, a movie theater, or even a grocery store since.”
Is she making it up?
I look into Grace’s face, and what I see there tells me she isn’t. She must really believe what she’s saying.
Grace’s phone rings.
“Sorry, do you mind if I take it?”
“Not at all.”
In truth, I’m relieved; this conversation has started to make me uncomfortable.
“Hello,” Grace says. “Kitty! How are you?”
“Oh darling, I’m so sorry. Of course I can.”
She listens some more.
“Yes. Please do. Oh, Kitty, I am so sorry.”
She says goodbye, touches End, and bursts into tears.
I rummage in my purse and find a package of Kleenex.
“Thank you,” she says. “Oh, poor Kitty. Her daughter . . .”
After a few minutes, Grace manages to tell me that Kitty’s daughter was hit by a car on her way to the mall two days ago.
“She was only fourteen. Kitty wants my help . . . with funeral clothes. I have a meeting with her in half an hour.”
I help her clean up the kitchen and then she leaves and I go back downstairs.
As soon as I open the door, I see Red.
“Good timing,” she says. “Goldensword Harvestmoon is ready.”
“Your character. Follow me. The others are already there.”
She turns and starts walking.
The priests said they were doing magic.
Am I about to see it with my own eyes?
Of course not, I tell myself. Grace misunderstood whatever happened. They were just playing hide and seek.
But for three days?
Maybe she said three hours.
Maybe time distorts when you’re a young mother and can’t find your kids.
But they called the police.
Maybe Anna’s mom or Grace got scared and called them.
I walk behind Red, wondering what I’m going to see.
We go through the living room and she touches a discolored spot on the far wall.
I hear a click, and the wall splits apart, panels slide to right and left, and I’m looking into a small, empty room.
The only thing in it is a black line on the white floor, which goes from left to right in the center of the room.
“Leave your phone here. Do you have any other electronics on you?”
“They won’t work once you step over that line. If you want them to still work when you get back, leave them here.”
I take my phone from my purse and drop it.
I pick it up and lay it down on an end table.
I walk beside Red into the room.
The black line is about half an inch wide, and I don’t know if I want to cross it.
I let Red go slightly ahead of me, and when she steps over it, nothing happens. I can still hear her footsteps, so I step over.
I feel as if a cool mist were enveloping me. My eyes blur for a second, and then the mist is gone, and I can see Red in front of me.
I look back and see the open wall of the living room.
I hear a click and look just in time to see the far wall slide open, and beyond that, sunshine.
“Welcome,” Red says. “This is our universe.”
“So it’s true?”
“Your mom told me about what happened when you were little.”
“Oh, that. Yeah, it’s true. Come on, let’s go.”