Jack came home from school and walked directly to his room. Usually he would toss his backpack in front of the door and plop down on the couch – play some video games, maybe have some pretzels or something. Today, he wanted to check out the advent calendar a little more.
His new mom, Janet, hated it when he went into his room and closed his door. So Jack made sure to close the door behind him.
Jack wished he hadn’t ignored Janet so well the day before. What had she said – she found the calendar in the attic? So where did the weird photo come from? Jack couldn’t imagine Janet putting it in there as some kind of joke. She was too vanilla for that. So where did it come from?
Propping the advent calendar up against his wall, Jack studied it closely. He pulled open the door marked “1” and looked in. Nothing. It was completely empty. He opened the door marked “2” and checked inside. It was empty too. He tried the third door. There was a bright blue, almost phosphorescent, round candy hiding in the corner of the little compartment. Jack pulled it out and looked at it. A little dusty, but nothing he couldn’t handle. He wiped it off on his shirt while trying to open the fourth door.
The door marked “4” would not budge. Neither would “5,” “6,” “14,” or “18.” Jack tried all of them. They were totally stuck.
Which was pretty bizarre. Jack tried the first three doors again – opened and closed. They worked perfectly. The hinges were smooth and silent and the wood didn’t even rub when the doors were closed: the fit was as true as it could possibly be.
Well, OK, it was December 3rd, so maybe the other doors weren’t supposed to open yet, but Jack didn’t see any kind of lock on any of the doors, including the first three that had opened. So it would be a pretty good trick to keep them closed until the day they were supposed to open. He figured he had to be missing something.
Jack shook his head, wishing Janet wouldn’t sneak into his room, even if it was to give him candy. His real Mom would never have done that. She respected his room and his privacy. She had always knocked before she came in. She had even knocked the day she came in and told Jack she was leaving him and Dad…
Looked like a pretty good jawbreaker. Jack tossed it into his mouth.
And the room swam in front of his eyes.
No, Jack thought, the room didn’t swim – he didn’t feel dizzy or sick. It was more like the room stood up, moved one inch to the left, and slammed back down again. It was the oddest sensation he had ever felt in his life.
And the advent calendar was gone.
And the wall of his bedroom was a different color.
It had been blue a second ago. Now it was white, which it hadn’t been for over a year. Not since they had “started fresh” and painted the whole house over.
Jack wedged the jawbreaker inside his cheek and slowly turned his head, trying to sneak up on his room to break the weird hallucination he was having.
It didn’t work. He turned all the way around and found a room that looked like it had two years ago, when he was ten. Before his Mother had left. His Pokemon comforter covered his bed. His Pikachu, Charizard, and Blastoise posters hung on the far wall.
OK, so it was a phase, Jack thought. Then he noticed girls and moved on.
This was bizarre – Jack couldn’t believe how real it all felt. He wondered briefly if someone had walked into his room and smacked him on the back of the head. Maybe he was unconscious and dreaming. How else to explain it?
Jack slowly got to his feet and walked around his room. It looked exactly like it had before his Mother left – it was like stepping back in time.
Jack wandered from his room and made his way to the kitchen. His eyes were wide, noticing the subtle differences in the house. He stepped into the kitchen and saw his Mother at the sink.
Not Janet – his real Mother.
“Hey, Kiddo,” she said.
Jack nodded. He didn’t trust himself to speak. She had always called him “kiddo.” He had almost forgotten that.
He stared at his Mother’s back as she continued to wash dishes. His head began to feel heavy and thick, like there was a brick sitting on top of it up there. He felt something brush against his leg.
With his head moving slowly – his brain just didn’t feel right – Jack looked down and saw Mick sitting on the floor, staring at him with his tongue hanging out.
Mick was Jack’s old dog. Part German Shepherd, part Lab, all mutt.
Mick had died nine months ago.
Jack choked on his jawbreaker. Really choked on it. The thing was wedged in his throat. He gasped and tried to cough. There was no air. He was making a really weird sound with his throat, trying to gulp in, but not getting anything.
His Mother finally noticed. “Hey! Are you OK? Jack!”
She moved over behind him and whacked him on his back with her palm. Once, twice, three times.
Jeez, Jack thought, I’m going to die. Doesn’t she know that doesn’t work? The Heimlich. Doesn’t she know about the Heimlich?
His Mother reared back and smacked Jack hard. The jawbreaker flew from his mouth and shot across the room.
And the room moved an inch to the right. Jack’s Mother went with it.