The sign on the door said Danger, Do Not Enter, but of course I had to. It wasn’t even a sign, really. The words were slashed across the door in bold, red slanting letters, a paintbrush wielded in anger.
I had to go in because of the light that filtered through, beckoning and irresistible. But first I looked to make sure Susan and John were behind me.
Susan, her hair a bird’s nest of tangles, shook her head slightly. No! Her entire body, slender as a colt, quivered as if she were about to bolt.
John peered around me at the door and urged, “You go first.”
I pushed, expecting resistance, but the door swung open and light, blinding in its intensity, rushed to meet us. Braver, more confident, we stepped inside and John, emboldened by the light, shoved to the front of our wary trio. Furniture draped in sheets and cobwebs made me think of shapeless, slumbering ghosts.
“I want to go home,” Susan whispered, and as if her words had been a physical force instead of a frightened murmur the door slammed shut, a thunderclap of sound. Light vanished, plunging us into darkness deep as a well.
“Run!” John yelped, hurtling into Susan, who sprang into action and shot through the dark, all slender legs and flailing arms. But I, who had thought fear paralysis was only the stuff of nightmares, could not move. My heart willed it but my body was mired in a quicksand of terror. It was like the dreams I had of being chased by a rabid dog or a formless creature, crashing into safety only through wakefulness because in my nightmares I never moved.
“It’s coming!” I shouted, but hunkered in the dark frozen, immobilized, disoriented. I felt John and Susan grab my arms, tug me from a bottomless pit of fear, heave against the door until with a grudging groan it opened and we were free, running now, all three of us, for the safety of the sleigh.
We felt, rather than saw, the monsters of that room behind us as we collapsed, hearts skittering, into the sleigh and willed it to move, to fly, higher and higher until we were free of that mad and dangerous place.
“I want to go to a GOOD land now,” Susan, eyes round as spoons, whimpered.
“We will,” I cried, “But we have to go higher!” The three of us swung until we were airborne and I could make out the colors of a distant land strewn with flowers and rainbows of color; a great land of magic that would put the demons behind us to rest.
We hadn’t yet slowed for landing when my mother poked her head through the front door. “I’ve told you not to swing so high. The hinges could break and send you over backwards into the bushes,” she admonished, breaking our spell, slowing our sleigh until it was a wooden swing, creaking beneath our weight and the strain of our efforts.
Magic Sleigh was a game I invented for the three of us, and we spent hours being transported to different lands, a front porch swing transformed into a vehicle limited only by the size of our imaginations.
For a moment in time, we chose our own unambiguous doors and controlled the outcome of our adventures. We sped from danger knowing an enchanted land of fairies and princesses waited to be willed into our lives.
“Let’s play Magic Sleigh!” one of us would shout and all of us would race to the front porch swing.