I was sitting on my bed. Stitch Mouth sat beside me. Balloon Girl stood near the door. A single motion passing across the surface of the window caught the corner of my eye. “She’s watching us,” I said, doing my best not to quiver.
“I know. Pretend we’re taking about something.”
“Like what?” My heart jumped. “I just saw her again.”
“It’s okay. Just talk about something. And don’t look directly at the window.”
“I can’t help it.”
“Balloon Girl is watching. We are okay. Talk about something, Sarah.”
“Can I talk about how crazy it is what we’re doing?”
“Of course,” Stitch Mouth said, giggling.
“Okay, well, here we are, sitting in my room, with the witch watching us from the window, when we should be miles ahead of her. I’m very scared. And it feels like I’m on a roller coaster.”
“Ooooh, what’s that?”
I tried to think of how to relay the idea of a roller coaster. I still wasn’t quite sure what time they were from, and they weren’t quite sure either. “Well, it would be like sitting in a horse carriage – you had those, right?”
“Of course. And I know what cars are, if that would be better.”
“Okay, perfect. So, a roller coaster is like being in a car that’s on a train track, but the train track is on super high hills. You sit in the car, strapped in, while the roller coaster clicks its way up. The first hill is always the biggest. You sit there, going higher and higher. A part of you wants to get off. But you can’t. You watch as the peak gets closer and closer. Click, clack, click, clack. You get to the very top –” I raised my hand steadily above my head, then dove it towards the floor “– then the car flies down the hill.”
“That sounds like so much fun!”
I laughed, feeling miserable inside. The witch could be heard working as quietly as she could at the window, thinking we were oblivious to her.
Stitch Mouth asked, “So, if this is like a roller coaster, what part of the ride are we on?”
“Close to the top, I think. Why are we doing this again?”
“To show the witch we are not afraid.”
“But we are afraid.”
“The witch doesn’t have to know.”
“Me too!” Stitch Mouth bounced a single time with excitement.
“She’s still trying to open the window.”
“I know that, Silly.”
“I don’t think I can do this.”
Stitch Mouth patted my hand. “Of course you can. We’re afraid. But we’re doing it too.”
“But you’re crazy,” I said, smiling.
“Crazier than you know.” She winked. “And you’re crazy too!”
“Everyone at school thinks so.”
“Why is she taking so long?” I wanted more than anything to glance back at the window, but Stitch Mouth widened her red eyes at me in warning.
“Who cares why she’s taking so long? She’s a witch.”
“I love when you talk about her like that.”
“Why?” Stitch Mouth asked.
“I just do.”
“How about you tell me a story?’
“It always helps me.”
“Okay, sure.” I told her the first thing that came to mind. “When I was ten, my dad took me to a father-daughter dance at my school. He was dressed in a suit. I was dressed in a frilly dress I thought made me look like a princess even though it was probably ridiculous. My dad shined his shoes and wore cologne, which is what he always did when he took my mom out on dates. He treated me like a lady throughout the night, opening doors for me, bowing before and after each dance, getting juice for me, even though back then, I really didn’t know that that was what he was doing. We danced. It was one of my favorite nights.”
Stitch Mouth appeared positively enchanted. “I love your story. And as you told it, the witch disappeared from your mind, didn’t she?”
“Yeah, but she’s still there.”
“So? We are too.”
Stitch Mouth’s comment instilled a sense of courage.
“Let’s start laughing,” Stitch Mouth said.
“Because it will make the witch angry.”
“That’s the last thing I want to do.”
As if on cue, Balloon girl presented herself before us. Her jaw sagged and she brought her fingers down in front of her face to symbolize hair – like charades – she was acting like the witch. She took the longest strides she could, passing back and forth. Balloon Girl then acted out the witch dying in a bunch of ways. She used hanging motions, stabbing motions, choking motions, and falling motions.
It wasn’t that funny, but it was funny enough to relax me.
The window was opening.
“She opening the window,” I said through my teeth.
“I know,” Stitch Mouth said through her own.
The window opened more. Cool air came in.
“Wait for it. 1-2-3. Go!”
Balloon Girl flicked the lights off. We dashed through the darkened room, running to our own assigned doors. In the light, the doors Stitch Mouth had drawn couldn’t be seen. But in the darkness, the room was covered in sketched doors every which way, like dizzying neon colored wall paper from a fun house at the fair. Stitch Mouth had given each of us a color to follow, and as long as we followed that color, we would all meet up together at the end. By the time the witch was through the window, we were gone. I went through my doors, colored yellow canary. Stitch Mouth had created such an intricate path of varied possibilities for me to follow, there were times I had to stop to make sure I was choosing the right shade of yellow. I pressed on, flying along. My lungs burned. In the scurrying, I became aware of how alone I was, hoping, hoping, my path would end as it was supposed to in reunification with Stitch Mouth and Balloon Girl. Yellow doors. Left, left, left, right, down, down, right, left, right, left, down, down, left, down, right, left – then – suddenly, I stepped out into a vast open room and skidded to a halt.
I looked around. They weren’t there, not yet. I felt vulnerable. I began to pace, keeping my eyes on the single yellow door we were all supposed to come through. In my growing panic, I wondered if something had happened to one of them, maybe both of them. The seconds ticked by, feeling like heavy hopeless minutes. I imagined awful things. The witch catching Stitch Mouth or Balloon Girl. I imagined the witch stepping through the yellow door, bending down and rising again with a smile of wicked victory. I began biting my nails. I couldn’t take it anymore. I went to open the door again but it burst open. Balloon Girl dashed through. She turned, closed the door, and a second later, Stitch Mouth was next.
My hands dropped to my knees in relief. All the nerves hit me in sudden exhaustion. I felt like I was going to be sick.
“Are you okay?” Stitch Mouth asked with concern.
“Yeah, just a little overwhelmed, I think.”
“Pretty fun, right?”
“Not at all.”
When the floor stopped spinning around my feet, I looked up. The yellow door was gone. There was only a white wall. A high white wall. It seemed strangely familiar.
“Where are we?” I asked.
Stitch Mouth stretched her arms out wide in presentation. “We have come to the home of Balloon Girl!”
“We are?” I asked with subtle thrill.
Balloon Girl was saying something to Stitch Mouth. Stitch Mouth shook her head. “Yes, yes. We are finally here. Finally! I’m so sorry it took me sooooo long.”
Balloon Girl nodded in acceptance of Stitch Mouth’s apology.
“You can be quite intolerable, you know,” Stitch Mouth said.
Balloon Girl nodded again. Then she stepped away from us in small measured steps, as though unsure of what to think. She walked out a little further. Stopping in the center of the vast open room, the ceiling high above us in white rafters, Balloon Girl gazed around in awe. She straightened to the tips of her toes and began to twirl, circling the room like a ballerina. Her motions were surprisingly graceful, trained and precise, and the balloon strings intertwined like a braid as she danced. Balloon Girl then turned and pinched the tips of her dress to offer a curtsy to Stitch Mouth who smiled and curtsied in return. Then she was off again, skipping and dancing, waving her skeletal arms up and down in sync with the pitter patter of her feet.
Balloon Girl’s house was a stark contrast to Stitch Mouth’s in every way, rich versus poor. The house was made of long beams and large windows which sparkled with crystal moon glow. White-cushioned chairs stationed in a large sitting area. Couches looked just as comfortable, with tassels at the bottom. Furniture with golden knobs. A dining table with a golden chandelier hanging above. There was a mirror in which I could see the three of us in our varied proportions. A bizarre group. Such peculiar friends.
A realization struck me. I turned towards the opposite end of the home and saw a spiral staircase. “I’ve been here!”