When I was little, I used to stop on the landing and stare at the half-height door that was faintly visible underneath the wallpaper. The frame had been stripped away and the doorknob removed, and I was forbidden from asking about it.
My older brother would tell me scary stories about the door, while he held a flashlight to his face and we crouched beneath the blankets late at night. He enlisted before I was old enough to know what that meant, went away. I stopped pausing on the landing, slowly stopped wondering, and eventually stopped seeing the shape of it at all.
But on the night before my fourteenth birthday, I woke to a cold sweat, a nightmare that felt so vivid and real in my mind, and I remembered the door and the stories.
I could hear the television roaring downstairs, canned laughter seeping into my bedroom, Nanny in the family room, keeping watch.
I crept to the railing overlooking the front hall, shaking too hard to bear passing by that door... "Sarah? Sarah?" I called, until she muted the tv and came to look up at me. She took in my pale face and clenched arms around my stuffed frog in the the ceiling light, and she raced up the stairs.
"Eilie, Eilie, are you alright?"
I shook my head.
"Was it a bad dream?"
She knelt in front of me. "Do you want to come downstairs and sit with me for a while?"
I started shaking again with the thought of passing by the door, and she wrapped her arms around me.
"Okay, not downstairs. Come here," Sarah wrapped her arm around the shoulder and led me back into my bedroom, turning on the lamp by the door. It cast comforting shadows around my room. "Why don't you tell me about it?" She closed my bedroom door behind us.
"T-the door. On the l-landing."
"Door? What door?"
I buried my face in the frog, wiping tears on its soft, squishy head. "Sean used to... he used to tell me stories, at night, in the dark. When he left, I- I started to forget, stopped seeing it. B-but now it w-won't g-go away."
"Oh, Eilie." She held me close and started rocking me back and forth until I felt the sobbing subside. "Your brother is doing good work. You'll see him again. Do you want to show me the door?"
I shook my head.
"Do you want me to go check the landing?"
I shook my head harder.
"Eilie, what has gotten into you? I've never seen you like this before. Why don't we turn on all the lights, and you can stand at the top of the stairs like you did just a few minutes ago, and I'll go check on the landing. That way, you're not alone, you can see me the whole time, and I can make sure everything is alright."
I stopped shaking my head. "You don't think I'm being silly?"
"Not at all. Maybe it's time I told you how I handled my bad dreams. I'll even let you borrow one of my books about it."
Sarah was very careful about who touched her books, and I gazed up at her in wonder, my face still streaked, but distracted. "Okay."
"Okay." She let go of me. "I'm not going far, just going to turn on the hall light, and then I'll be right back."
Sarah stood up, pulled open my bedroom door, and reached around the wall to the lightswitch. The darkness in the hallway scurried away, and she came back to me. "Are you ready?"
I shook my head, but stood anyway, and she accompanied me back to the railing.
"It will be okay. I'll be right here, I'll come right back, okay?"
I sniffled and nodded.
She walked slowly down to the landing, and then looked back at me. I pointed at one of the walls, and she peered at it. "Wha- what? There is a door here. Or there used to be. I don't know why I never saw it before." She glanced up at me. "Oh sweetie." She raced back up the stairs and took me back into my room.
Sarah shut the door behind us and led me to my bed. "I'll stay with you tonight, okay? I'm not going anywhere. And tomorrow, I'll talk with your Mom and Dad, okay?" She threw back the covers and laid down.
I curled up against her, and didn't fall asleep for a long time.