That hallway hadn’t been there yesterday, Polly was almost certain. But she was a child, and she knew she sometimes misremembered things. At least, that’s what grandma and grandpa always said: With time, her underdeveloped brain would ripen like theirs. With time, her fleeting, mouse-like memories would be trustworthy like theirs. She only needed to be patient. Still, she had been living in their house for at least a month now. She was almost certain of all this.
The incomprehensible hallway, with its familiar patterned wallpaper, still stood the next morning. At the far end, a closed door. When she peered down the length at it, she got a weird feeling like being in a bad dream. She had a lot of those. Bad dreams. In fact, the very first dream she could remember ever having, at age three or four, was a nightmare. In it, she’d been overjoyed when her mother surprised her with a plastic water gun from the corner drugstore. But as soon as Polly tore open the package, her mother crumpled to the floor, face pale as white powder. The picture of death. Polly told her mother about the dream the following night, weeping in her arms. “I thought I lost you,” she cried over and over again. “I know, baby, but it wasn’t real. I’m right here. I’m right here.” That’s when her mother taught her to pinch herself the next time she got scared. If she were stuck in a nightmare, the pain would wake her up.
Polly pinched herself now, staring at that door down the corridor, but nothing happened. Grandpa drove her to kindergarten. She decided that she would not spend the day thinking about strange houses that refused to stay the same, and so she didn’t. She received a gold star for reciting the alphabet quicker than anyone else in her class. Then, grandma drove her home.
That night, it was all still there: the hallway, the door, that awful feeling. Except now, a strip of light was visible underneath, like someone was on the other side. It couldn’t be grandma or grandpa. They were both downstairs in the kitchen, arguing over the television. She could hear their voices. But she thought she heard a woman humming, too, from somewhere up above, a tune her mother had always loved. And in that hallway, wafting towards her, she even thought she smelled her mother’s perfume.
This wasn’t a dream. She pinched herself once more to make sure. That’s how she knew she must be imagining things again.
Polly walked in the opposite direction, back to her bedroom. She wanted to sit in the darkness of her closet, the one place in this peculiar, shifting house where she felt safe. But the door to the little room was gone. She ran her hand up and down the wall where the frame used to be. Nothing. She was almost certain it had been there yesterday, but now it wasn’t. Defeated, she flopped onto a rug on the floor instead.
She thought about that nightmare she’d had, the first one she could remember. She thought about how her mother had said it wasn’t real, but then a year later she’d left the house to run some errands at the corner drugstore and never came back. Wrong place, wrong time, a stranger with a concealed gun. At least, that’s what Polly remembered being told. But of course, her unreliable memory couldn’t be trusted. Maybe when she was older, when her brain was no longer a raw, unformed thing, she would finally know for absolute certain what had really happened.