When I opened my laptop to write this, it was 5:55. My coffee doesn’t taste quite like coffee, which means I probably made it wrong, but I don’t care because my mind is finally sitting up and blinking and coming to life. The Lumineers are coming through a pair of borrowed earbuds, reminding me of road trips and long nights and hotel rooms and friends.
I just woke up from a two-hour nap, and I had this dream.
I was in a familiar red house—gray-roofed, with white windowsills. It sat alone on the corner of a quiet street, looking small and uncertain between cracked sidewalks and a strangely open sky.
Inside the house, there was this dark room, and we were trapped inside. It was me and probably a dozen other kids, packed so tightly together that we could hardly move. There were fluorescent lights on the ceiling, blue and pink, making it feel like we were stuck in a badly lit arcade. An unfamiliar girl looked up at me from the floor, the lights turning her braided hair the color of a neon sky. Her voice was flooded with a quiet panic. “We can’t get out.”
I pushed my way between the wall and somebody in a huge hoodie, reaching for the doorknob in the dark—
It opened. Easily. Soft gasps of surprise echoed behind me as I tumbled out of the tiny room and into a wide, quiet hallway with tall windows that poured afternoon sunlight across the floor. It was pale and still and peaceful.
Turning back to the huddle of scared kids behind me, I smiled in relief. A boy with pink curls stared at me, his eyes huge and uncertain. No one moved.
“Guys, c’mon,” I said hesitantly. “There’s enough space for everybody out here.”
The blue-haired girl stood up as if to follow me, then sat back down, breathing shallowly in the suffocating space. I moved further away from the open doorway, waiting.
After a minute of heavy silence, a tiny kid with a red t-shirt stepped out of the shadows, barefoot and disheveled, and looked up at me with a hopeful expression. “Come on,” I said to him, taking his hand. “You can pick any room you want.”
We stepped into the quiet house, walking slowly, opening every door along the hallway as we went. The rooms were clean and empty, inviting, full of light. I looked down at the boy, who was gripping my hand tightly, his face unreadable. “See anything you like?”
“I think I wanna go back,” he mumbled, pulling me towards the dark room again. When we came around the corner, a few of the kids were standing in the doorway, arms wrapped around themselves, looking terrified in the openness. They retreated into the shadows when they saw us coming, and the boy broke into a run, joining their huddled group with a sigh of relief.
Nobody spoke. The warmth coming through the windows was soft around me as I watched them, helpless. The boy seemed like something was tearing him apart inside, but he stayed motionless, the blue light making his small face look haunted.
I stood in the hallway, staring at them for a minute, then at the small front door at the end of the house. I could see the street through its hexagonal window—weeds pushing through asphalt, blank white houses, empty sky.
In the dark little room, neon lights buzzed and flickered.
I stayed still, too scared to leave, and listened to the silence.