- Debbie Lau
Door to the Underworld
1. ‘Dumb new town’
Adam barged into the room and slammed the door. His mom had told him to check out his new room in their new house. He crossed his arms and scoffed “Why do we have to move to this dumb new house in this dumb town? “ Adam huffed. He looked around though there wasn’t much to see. The windows were boarded up, covering the view and the room smelled of rotting wood. He placed his hand over his mouth, in an attempt to block the horrid stench. He couldn’t believe this was the place his parents had decided to stay in. They said it would work with renovations. They said moving would be a great job opportunity. Adam wasn’t buying any of it. But there wasn’t much a simple ten-year-old could do about it. When he went to turn on the lights they were dim and flickering, the light switch made a loud click that seemed to faintly scream when he pressed it. He looked around, there was nothing to do. After his mom and dad took his friends from him, Adam wasn’t going to help them settle into this new house. He recalled watching his friend John fading from the window view whilst he sat in the passenger seat of his dad’s car. It was already hard to talk to other people. Why did he have to find new friends? He stood in the room just looking around for something to do. Still nothing. The only thing that seemed mildly interesting was the strange sound the light switch made. He started to flick it on and off quickly.
2. Strange door, stranger room,
The room started to shake slightly and the paint was peeling off the walls and he noticed a black rectangle was molding into the lumpy walls. He only saw it in the dark. But it was there. He saw what he thought was a wooden door. Adam’s eyes widened and his breathing grew heavier than it already was. He wanted to scream but for just a split second he couldn’t move his mouth. The door opened and as soon as he walked in the door shut. He shook his head and realized he had walked in the door. He was in a small, dimly lit room with cement walls and a spiral staircase. The door was black and had no handle, lock or other devices to open it. He banged on the door and started shouting “LET ME OUT!”. It seemed his parents couldn’t hear him because after screaming no sound or banging was coming from the other side of the door. He looked around the small space for anything to help him get out, yet there was nothing there. Just the creepy staircase. The lights were still dim and looked like they might spark anytime soon. He banged on the door once again. He still didn’t hear anything. The only option he had was to walk down the stairs, so he slowly walked down secretly praying that this wasn’t real, that he was just dreaming. The old wooden stairs were loud and creaky. Adam felt like he was walking on air with nothing to support him. Soon he reached the next door, this time it wasn’t black but a lighter gray. Again, there was no device to open it. He pushed it hard expecting it to be blocked but instead, he tripped and fell out. He got up and immediately noticed something was wrong.
He got up and the sky was a gloomy gray, he smelled a foul odor like when his dad left his wet socks out. The place was unsettling, buildings had black windows and plants were dry and withered. It looked barren like no one had been there in centuries. But strangely enough there were footprints. He turned around and the door had disappeared already. Suddenly, he heard a yell, and some figures that looked humanoid, started running towards him and something told him they weren’t so happy to see him there. There were other anthropomorphic people who saw him but they didn’t seem to care. He didn’t know what they were nor did he have the time to figure it out. His legs started moving and before he knew it he was running away. He looked back, they were closer than before he started to pick up the pace. As he was sprinting away, he felt the sharp pain in his legs as if they were being continuously stabbed by a parade of knives. He kept running until he felt like he was bound to faint if he ran a single meter more. The smell wasn’t helping either, he felt like throwing up. He saw a dark alleyway, he could hide from them inside. Adam ran into the alleyway and backed himself up to a wall at the furthest corner, he tried to be as silent as humanly possible.
4. Riley and Ethan
A voice shouted “I knew there was someone there!“ Adam bounced backward. Among trash cans and dark, dirty buildings were two kids staring back at him, a girl and a boy. “What are you doing running into a dark alleyway like that?” The girl stood before the boy. She had messy, brown hair. It was medium length and some of it was in a ponytail on the side of her head tied by an orange scrunchie. She had a wide stance and her chest was puffed out. The girl had slightly tanned skin. She wore an oversized white t-shirt with big words that said STRONG and a small embroidered cat face. She was wearing flower-pattern shorts.
“I think he is lost.” the boy quietly replied. Behind her, there was a short boy that looked between nine to eleven years old, like Adam. He had a yarn red hat covering his head and scruffy black hair and bangs. He had circle lens glasses. The boy was pale and skinny. He was wearing a yellowish-orange sweater and a brown scarf even though the temperature was mild. The scarf wrapped around his neck loosely and covered his mouth. Adam was still taking a while to process what had happened. He was violently huffing in and out the air until he could finally catch his breath.
“Stay away. ” Adam warned as he wasn’t sure if they were dangerous or not. They didn’t look threatening but you can never really tell. The girl rolled her eyes and brushed her hair behind her ear. “Oh no, we’re so dangerous!” The girl started mocking Adam, “You might have to run away or you might get killed!” She started looking up at the sky and hugging herself. She stuck her tongue out. Adam instantly didn’t like the girl but he was still focused on figuring out how to get home. “Ok. Ok. I get it. “ Adam looked at the girl, “Now will you please stop and tell me where on earth I am.”
“Okay, but first, a short introduction. ” She grinned. “ I am the amazing, brilliant, and marvelous Riley Winham.” Adam doubted she was all those things. But then he looked over at the boy. “And you are?” he asked. The boy walked in front of the girl. “Ethan.” He shook Adam's hand and smiled. Adam couldn’t see much of it but it was there. “Just Ethan.” He walked back and Riley started talking again.
“ You are dead.” She pointed at Adam. He raised an eyebrow.
“Are you threatening me?” First, she was like she wasn’t hurting him and the next minute she was telling him that he was in trouble.
“You’re not in trouble. “ Riley continued, “You are literally dead. You’re a ghost or something.” That’s when he realized it. Snap! How could he be so blind? The other kids were translucent and glowed ghoulish blue. He stopped. They were ghosts themselves. But he couldn’t possibly be dead, could he?
“You’re lying.” he objected. “I know exactly what happened. I was in my new room and there was a door in the shadows. Then there was a staircase and then another door. Next thing I know, things start to chase me and I’m here talking to some ghost people.” Adam started aggressively pinching himself. “This is a dream. I know it is.” The girl shook her head.
“You’re right!” Ethan spoke. “He’s telling the truth, Riley.” Adam looked up from his wrist. “He’s actually a human.”
“But that’s impossible!” Riley swung her arms into a V shape.
“No, it isn’t.” He looked down. “I read it in one of my books. It’s one of the entrances to the underworld. “
“Okay whatever. But what is he doing here?”
Underworld? Adam knew what they were talking about, the place where people go when they die. He thought back to what caused all of this. He was just trying to have some fun in his dusty new room but who knew flicking a light switch one too many times would get you transported to some strange place with ghost inhabitants? Adam stopped thinking and realized that he’d been standing there for a few minutes. Riley and Ethan were still there but they looked annoyed that he was just staring at nothing and not replying.
“Soo,” He asked, breaking the silence, “How do I leave?”
“You have to win the Annual Resurrection Tournament.” Ethan said, “ It happens every 50 years. You are lucky it’s only two days from now. It opens at precisely two to two thirty. You will have to compete in a few different board games. But they are life-sized and you are the pieces of the game. If you die in the game you will have to wait another 50 years to play again.” Adam turned his head up and down, questions flooded his head. His eyes twitched and he wasn’t sure if there was an explanation for the things that this ‘Ethan’ boy just said. Nothing he had said made the minimal amount of sense. “R-re-resurrection tournament? 50 years? “ It sounded like someone had stringed words together and played them on a fuzzy radio.
“Where am I going to stay for the next two days?” Adam asked.
“You can stay in our treehouse. We can live anywhere but we like to stay in the treehouse. ”Riley chimed in, “Don’t worry it has a bathroom. Follow us back there.” Adam wasn’t sure about following the two but there wasn’t anything better to do. As they walked out of the alleyway, Adam realized that the other strange ghost stopped chasing him. He wondered where they went. Then he thought of problems he might have. What if I don’t win this tournament? What if my parents forget about me? What if I never go back? “What about the food?” Adam asked worriedly. “It wouldn’t matter because you don’t feel hunger here.” Ethan chirped. After they finally arrived at the treehouse. Adam looked at the tree. It was grayish and looked old like the wood might break under pressure. There was a ladder made from wood and tied with a thick wiry rope around the trunk of the tree. The treehouse had a small door and openings as windows. The roof was bulky and the nails weren’t completely intact. He climbed up and saw brown cushions propped up against the wall of the tree house. There were books placed around the floor, and most of them were stacked into small towers.Near the cushions was a make-shift loom with blue yarn and a needle poked through. It was a half-completed elephant embroidery. The room had floor panels that stuck out making the floor quite uncomfortable to walk on. By now, the sun had turned to a pearl and the sky was a gradient of light purple and orange. Adam found a flat spot on the floor and slowly fell asleep on a cushion. It wasn’t very comfortable as you would imagine, he was on a wooden floor. The next two days passed by like a breeze. Nothing much happened besides some reading sessions and board game playing with Ethan. Soon it was the tournament day and the morning Adam woke up he thought he was at his home. His old home, not the dumb new place he’d moved to. But when he got up he realized that he was still at the ghost treehouse. He remembered that it was the day to go to the tournament. He hoped that he was good enough to pass. Adam sat up and looked around the treehouse and saw Ethan sitting next to him reading a book. “ What are you reading?” Adam asked as he looked around.
“I’m reading more about your tournament.” Ethan replied.
“Cool.” Adam smiled, “Got anything important I should note down?”
“Not really. “ Ethan shrugged, “Just dates and stuff. Though it is strange that they underlined ‘alive’. “ Ethan flipped through the pages and handed him the book. ‘The game feels alive!’
Soon it was time to get to the tournament.
The three of them walked along the streets. These few days have been fun but I guess I have to go. Adam looked at the strange town with leafless trees and colorless buildings.
5. 50-year Resurrection Tournament
The gates passed through the clouds. They were made of gigantic blocks of shiny metal-like material. It gleamed in the light and reflected the gray sky and clouds. Adam approached the gates and noticed people were gathering around. They weren’t as close to the gates as he was though. He stared back at the gate and the carved rectangle that Adam guessed that it was the door. Gray silhouettes came out and took him through the door.
Adam walked in, he looked closer and saw that they were just other ghosts in gray suits. The door led to a hallway. The hallway looked similar to the room that led him here. At the end of it, there was a black wooden plank with a little shiny golden handle. Great another door Adam thought. He entered and saw that he was in a red room. There were 15 other people in the room that Adam counted. On the floor, there were some dice. “Welcome to our tournament. “ A booming voice came from the speakers. “You have been foolish enough to enter. This year you'll be playing snakes and ladders. Everyone, pick up a dice on the floor.” Adam picked up a die and looked at it.
Eyes and a mouth unnaturally sprouted onto the dice. “Hello.” said a raspy voice. “How are you doing?” The dice’s mouth was moving but the voice seemed to be echoing in his mind. “AAh! Uh- I-I’m good.” Adam looked back at the dice and said, “So am I supposed to just roll this thing?”Adam tossed the dice on the ground.
“Wait what. No-no-noo!” the dice crashed onto the ground. “You imbecile!” it shouted, rolling around on the ground. “Pick me back up you fool.” Adam was confused but did as told. “Umm, how does this work?” He asked,
“You just listen to what I say and tell me what I want to hear so you can win this game of little snakes and ladders. So look up. There is a board over there. “ Adam took a glance and saw a square screen on the wall. It had a checkerboard pattern and colorful squares that moved around. “See those little spots of color, those are the players. That’s your reference board. It shows you where you are and where everyone else is. That yellow block is you.” Adam looked at the yellow square in the very corner.
“So it’s like regular snakes and ladders except we are the actual players. “
“Obviously, you little insignificant thing!” The dice continued, “I control whether you win or lose. If you don’t please me I’ll roll a bad number until eventually, somebody else wins!”
“Okay, I think I understand how this works.” Adam was taking a bit of a minute to take in what the dice had just said.”Okay then roll a 6.” Adam tossed the dice and the dice rolled along the ground.
“Ow! That hurts.” The dice landed on a 3 and Adam was transported to a blue room
“Why didn’t you roll six as I said?”
“Because that’s not how it works! You don’t just yell a number at me and expect I’ll oblige! You’re supposed to follow me and don’t ever forget that I control what space you land on.”
“Um, what should I do then? Mr . . . Dice . . guy.” Adam asked,
“Just say what I say.” The dice said, “If you do, I will roll six.” Adam nodded,
“I am the greatest dice that ever lived!”
“You are the greatest dice that ever lived,” Adam said. He looked at the flat screen, if he just rolled five more slots he would get to climb a ladder and go higher. “Roll five now. “
“Let me think,” Mr. Dice paused for a moment, “How about . . . . no.”
Adam couldn’t believe that a snarky little cube was going to control whether not he gets to go home or not. “What more do you want?” Adam asked.
The dice started rapidly blinking and a mischievous smile spread across his face.
“. . . . What’s that! You want to hear my entire life story?” The dice attempted to distract Adam from the main goal.
“No, I don’t want to. There’s no time for silly stories!” Adam shouted.
“Too late!” Oh great. Adam thought, With this thing, I’ll never be able to win this stupid game and finish the game so I can get back home. Where it’s not filled with ghosts and dice with eyes.
“. . . . And so my first pet fish, Goldie, died.” The die’s voice was quick and high-pitched. Adam had a sudden thought. If I roll and I just keep rolling I’ll eventually win. He picked the dice up and rolled it on the palm of his hand. The dice landed on two.
“HEY!” it shouted, “ I wasn’t done talking about my cat, Margeret! Oh! And did I mention that I use mint toothpaste? “
They were transported to another room, this time it had mirrors for walls, and parts of the mirrors were cracked and it looked like the rooms hadn’t been cleaned in years.
“Don’t I look wonderful!” The dice stuck its tongue out at Adam. “And you look like a disgusting flesh bag.” Adam picked up the dice. With his eyes rolled, he said, “Yea, sure! You’re amazing!” and then tossed it again. It landed on 5 which was an improvement, but still everyone else seemed way ahead.
“Hey! Hey!” The dice smiled. “I’ll roll four! Four, okay?” The thing is finally cooperating! Adam thought. He rolled the dice gently on his palm and waited. It spun around his hand quickly and was slowing down four. But as it was just about to stop the dice swerved to the right and landed on one.
“THAT was for rolling me without permission. If I keep rolling and landing on one then you will get stuck in a loop and never win. “ Adam was annoyed but knew it was true. The fastest way to win was to please the irritating thing. He took a deep breath and stated, “What is it that you want me to do for you?”
“Pour me a cup of tea.” It croaked in an awful ‘British accent’. Before Adam even got to think where he was going to find that tea, another door appeared and a gray-suited ghost came out with a trolley with a cup and a kettle on top. The ghost quickly left but the tea remained. Adam propped the dice back on his hand and walked over to the trolley, Let’s get this over with. He put the die down and poured a cup of tea.
“Could I please get a six now?“ Adam asked politely. The dice started growing and as it grew its mouth became wider so it swallowed the entire set and shrunk back again.
“Now, since you’ve not been completely a waste of time I will. “ Adam rolled the dice in the palm of his hand, got six and they were transported into a new room.
6. Almost There
The new room was made entirely of colored glass. It had radial patterns and normally Adam would’ve stayed to admire the workmanship but he had far more important things to do. He sped through a few rooms and even though he had to listen to the dice talking about how great itself was as it was starting to get fun. On square 34, Adam rolled the dice when the dice was asking for something and it landed on 3. They were teleported to a different square, one that looked quite familiar.
“You stupid fool. Now we’re down one level.” the dice complained.
Adam saw the screen, it had a yellow box over 27. “Oops. “ Adam whispered to himself.
“Now since you’ve ruined our win streak I’m going to punish you!!“ the dice shrieked, “ Since I’m being generous I’ll give you a light one! Now grab a scrub and clean the floors!” Adam looked at the floor, it had to be centuries old with dirt. He didn’t realize the gray ghosts weren’t the cleaners. It would take hours and hours of long and tedious work. Unfortunately, Adam didn’t have that kind of time to win. He hoped that the die felt even a slight pinch of remorse that would make his job significantly easier. Another gray ghost entered the room. It had a ‘moveable clothes bin’ carrying floor-cleaning items and a utility wagon containing other materials. The items looked small from afar and it looked like there could be an infinite amount of things inside. It wasn’t efficient but maybe he could work with it. He plopped the die in his shirt pocket. Adam snatched a vacuum cleaner and sucked up the dirt. Somehow all the dirt, dust, and rust vacuumed in at the push of a button. He took a mop and dunked it in the water bucket in the wagon. In a single stroke, all the grime and sludge in the area disappeared. He kept mopping the perimeter and covered the rest of the ground. In just over a few minutes he had finished.
“You’re finally done! You were taking forever!” The dice groaned. It doesn’t have the right to complain. This thing just sits in my pocket and does nothing.
“So can I roll now?” Adam wanted to get things along so he could continue winning and go back to his home world where there weren't any dead people and the afterlife was just a speculation. Maybe he could throw away the strange door like it was a bad dream. He could finally escape the place. No more chasing silhouettes, no more gray people, no more talking dice and life-sized board games. But he would always remember Riley and Ethan. Even just two days can make great memories he could never forget.
“I said yes! Are you deaf or something? Where’s your brain at, Mars?” the dice said. “You should stop daydreaming and start paying attention. Look, everyone else is so much farther ahead!” Adam looked at the TV screen, the yellow tint was still above box 27.
“O-kay,” Adam replied meekly. He lifted the die out of his shirt pocket, placed it in his palm, and rolled it. They passed through the squares quickly again. Every room was a different color or texture from viridian to mauve and rocky, concrete grounds to rooms completely made of wood. A loud voice from the speakers abruptly said, "The first player has been eliminated."
What? What does that mean? Ethan didn’t tell me about this. Thoughts were swirling over his head like little gray clouds.
“Now there’s a better chance to win.” the dice said. "Less competition means more chances to win."
"But what exactly does 'eliminated' mean and how do you get eliminated? " Adam asked.
"It means they fell back on snakes 4 times and now they're out of the game. Or, they went over one hundred. "The dice replied. "Now, I said you could roll me." Luckily, Adam had only fallen onto a snake once. Adam tossed the dice and the game continued. More and more people were eliminated. Sometimes the dice would give him punishment for small things but overall he was still moving quite quickly on the board. They passed through many strangely colored and textured rooms. At square 56 he dropped levels again, this time down to square 38. It was fine since it was only his second drop so Adam wouldn't have to wait 50 years to see his parents. By then what would he even look like? Do people age in the afterlife? He kept rolling the dice over and over. Landed on a snake for the third time. Now, he was super careful.
On square 78 there was another person…ghost. He seemed to be waiting for something. Adam didn't care. He rolled the dice and suddenly the man hit the dice mid-air and it changed course landing on 2. They teleported in a flash of light to area 52. They had landed on a snake 4 times. 'You are eliminated' was the only thing that went through Adam's mind. "Player has landed on snakes four times." The speakers boomed. Adam could feel the words creeping closer every millisecond. "Error. Sabotage detected. The player will not be eliminated. A cheater will serve punishment." They were moved back to square 78 and this time there was no other ghost. They continued playing and the dice continued making snarky remarks. They were in room 95. They just had to roll 5 or fewer. The odds were high. It was like a lottery that guarantees you win. He rolled and as it slowed it was close to landing 6 when it rumbled and landed on 5. Perfect.
7. Back home
Even though he was unlucky and inexperienced, Adam managed to complete the game. He didn’t think he’d even make it after square 5. In an instant, he was transferred to another area. He felt in his pocket that the dice was gone. He was finally rid of the cubed nuisance. He was left in a narrow hallway that had emerald wallpaper with an elegant pattern of lily flowers that was beginning to peel off the corners. It was equally unnerving as the stairs that left him trapped. A little, black door, identical to the one he discovered while the lights were flickering, was situated at the end of the corridor. The place had wooden floor tiles that looked as though they’d been rotting on the ground for a long time. He turned the shiny obsidian door handle and pushed the door open. Inside was a gray-painted room. It was dim and the only thing in the room was a round coffee table and a plate with a lit candle. The candle radiated a bright sunset light. An inscription was carved at the bottom of the candle reading: BLOW AND MAKE A WISH. BLOW TWICE. Adam blew the candle out and wished that he could go home. The light blew out fast but flicked back on just as quickly. Adam then wished that he could come and go to that world as he wanted because it may have been just a short amount of time but Riley and Ethan made moving easier with the games and reading. It made him realize he could still make many new friends even if he lost his first. He blinked and suddenly he was back in the smelly old bedroom. He could hear his parents yelling his name from outside. He had new feelings about this place. Instead of a dirty old shack it was warm and bright even with the boarded-up windows. A package caught his attention. It was grey and decorated with a red ribbon. He pulled the ribbon and carefully peeled off the paper. Inside was a black ballpoint pen, but it wasn’t the pen he was interested in, it was a small note reading: Hope you had fun in my world. Just know it’s one click away. This ghost world gave him more questions about itself than answers but today wasn’t the day to solve them. He put the pen in his shirt pocket and opened the door. His parents looked relieved to see him there. “It’s been two hours. “ His mom uttered. “Where were you?“ They wrapped their arms around each other. He realized that it didn’t matter where he lived as long as he was with the people he loved everything would be alright.