It was raining, and Marty and his little sister, Liza, were bored stiff. They had played board games, tried reading, and had run their mother ragged. She had finally told them to go play downstairs, which was one of their favorite activities though they weren’t often loud to partake. Playing in the cellar meant going through old junk of their father’s, which he did not prefer them to do. Oftentimes they broke things or misplaced items, and they were then useless to him. Their father, however, was at work and their mother saw a chance to get them out of her hair.
They weren’t going to argue.
They descended the stairs into the damp cellar, flicking on the bare bulb that served as the only light source. Some children would have been frightened by such a cold, dark place, but not the two of them. It was a perfect place to explore, if you could stand the spiders and the shadowy corners at least.
Marty wasted no time finding a box to pick through, while Liza opened up all the drawers on the work table. She pulled out all sorts of pliers and screws and nails, looking for anything of interest. They were at it for a little while before either of them noticed the peculiar noise, but it was Liza who took note of it first.
“Do you hear that?” She asked her brother, putting down the hammer in her hand and turning towards him. “It sounds like…like people laughing and talking….”
“What?” Marty asked, tugging off an old pair of aviator goggles he’d found in the box he’d been rummaging around in. He paused and then heard it too, frowning as he glanced towards the far corner. “Yeah, I do hear that. Must be a radio.”
Making his way through the shelves of junk, Marty shoved aside a stack of unused wooden milk cartons and saw the door. It took him by surprise, as he didn’t remember having ever seen it before. It was shaped like an arch, with a rounded top, and it was made out of heavy looking wood. There was a sliding latch near the top, and the door handle was the sort you had to press with your thumb and then pull. He was very certain that this had not been here before, as he and Liza had been all over this cellar.
“Come look at this,” he called to her over his shoulder, beckoning her with his hand. The noise was louder here, like people were talking just on the other side. He could hear other sounds now, like calliope music and someone calling out ‘Popcorn! Candy! Peanuts!’. There were smells too, delicious smells, and his stomach growled. “Hurry up, Liza Jane!”
Liza picked her way over to her brother, eyes going wide as she took in the door. Reaching out she rested her hand against it, looking at Marty uncertainly. “Where did this come from?” She asked him, in complete and utter awe. “Wow, do you think dad put it here? Where do you think it goes?”
Marty shrugged his shoulders, leaning up on his toes to undo the latch. “I don’t know, but there’s only one way to find out,” he assured her, dropping back to his feet. He put his hand on the door handle, pushed down with his thumb, and then pulled it.
A circus lay on the other side of the door, in full color but a little bit distorted like they were watching it through the television set in the spare bedroom. Like the channel just didn’t quite come in clear enough, or the screen was just a little bit off. There was a big top tent in the background, and a man with a wide tray strapped to his front hocking food. He stopped to hand a little boy a hot dog, taking some change from him before moving on. The sky was blue and cloudless, a yellow balloon floating up and out of sight into the brilliance.
“Wow,” Liza whispered again, her hand resting on the door again as they watched. “I can smell it, Marty. Can you smell it? Grass and horses and popcorn and peanuts. Do you suppose it’s real?”
“Must be,” Marty told her, thinking about it as he watched the vendor move out of sight. “I mean, you can’t smell a picture, right? We can’t smell what’s on television. So it must be real. It must be…some sort of door, to another place. To this place. We should go.”
Liza shook her head slowly, looking torn between wanting to agree and saying no though she ultimately jut shook her head again. “I don’t think so, Marty. Not until we ask mom.”
Marty snorted, glancing over at her and then back at the scene beyond the door. “Don’t be silly, Liza. Mom will just say no, and anyway we maybe aren’t even supposed to know about this. Maybe this is just something for her and dad, to get away from us or something. Here, you go first!”
Before Liza could disagree, Marty grabbed her by the shoulders and gave a hard shove. She shrieked as she stumbled forward, disappearing out of sight. He waited then for her to appear at the circus before him, but she didn’t. He could only hear her tiny, frightened voice echoing back to him.
“Marty? MARTY! Help me, it’s dark in here!”
Her words were cut off then by a blood curdling scream, and Marty reacted by slamming the door shut. He leaned up and latched it back, and then shoved all the milk crates back into place. There was silence now, no curious sounds or delicious smells either, but he didn’t stick around to see if they returned. He ran out of the cellar so fast he didn’t even bother to turn off the light as went.
Later on, when they asked where Liza was, Marty swore she’d still been in the cellar digging around in the drawers. The police showed up after their parents failed to locate her, and if anyone had discovered the door, none of them said a word. He never told, too scared to admit he’d shoved her in there, choosing instead to remain quiet. He never went back to the cellar either, though that door would haunt his dreams for the rest of his life.