By: Marissa Ammon
My best friend keeps ranting about the new hangout spot across the street from the shopping center. She said that my brother, Dan, and I should join her today.
“Could you drop us off at the Playhouse?” I begged, “It’s a new place.”
She looked at the pictures online of all the cool things they had: a large ball pit, a swimming pool, computers, study rooms and even an arcade.
“Well, okay. It should be fine,” Mom unexpectedly approved.
After breakfast, Mom dropped us off at the front entrance of The PlayHouse that Dan and I had so anxiously awaited to experience. On the outside, a poster in the front window advertised “Free Admission.” The top of the building had hundreds of colors filled with the words “PlayHouse.”
We could hear laughter and joy bursting through the entrance. The black and white sofas and tiled floors added a decorative flair. Dan and I ran over to the right where they had a huge snack bar with soft pretzels, cotton candy and ice cream. Straight ahead were three different paths. Each set of glass doors opened to a new area. We chose the one labeled “Ball Pit.” A young worker, probably a college student, yelled as we walked past her to one of the ball pit rooms.
“You don’t have to go in together,” she said. “There are lots of other rooms.”
Dan joked in his insanely loud voice, “We’re twins! So we do everything together!”
The perimeter of the ball pit room was gigantic, with three different ball pits, each bigger than a bathtub and as deep as a pool. There were two purple and blue slides that were long and plastic.
“Cool!” We whispered.
“Darlie!” A young girl shouted. “You found it!” That voice belonged to my best friend, Aubrey. We met back in second grade. It seemed like forever to us, though it had only been a few years.
Aubrey took Dan and me outside. The weather was warm for early April. There were so many bouncing castles. One in particular caught my eye. It was shaped like a real castle, with pink and purple all over. There was a big river, like a moat, in front of the castle. So, we all entered from the back of the castle, except Dan.
“I’m not going in that thing.” Dan yelled.
“Come on!” I complained, pulling off my sneakers.
As Aubrey and I jumped continuously with her hand in mine, all of a sudden my breath felt faintly slower and heavier. We finally let go of each other as my eyes were shifting. My vision blurred and I lost my sense of direction. Suddenly, Aubrey was gone. I fell on my hip and did an accidental somersault, bouncing off one last time. As I flipped upside down, the entire bouncy castle turned over with me. I could feel the bottom of the castle sticking to my thigh as I tumbled.
Splash! The castle and I collapsed in the water. I felt the castle sinking and desperately tried to stay afloat.
“I have to get out of here!”
I kept jumping, trying to find the top of the castle, but I made the castle sink more. I grabbed the top part of the castle and held on tight, even as my hands were getting pruney and sweaty. I clenched my fist and punched a thin membrane of the castle.
Somehow, I was able to escape and I swam out. I arrived back on the land. I turned around and watched the castle deflate, sinking even deeper into the water. An image popped into my head. I looked at my red hand, the one that I held on with Aubrey’s. Then, I realized she was probably still inside.
“Aubrey!” I screamed out. There was no answer.
I ran back into the Playhouse, a two-minute jog away. When I finally got there, I saw Aubrey’s older sister.
I yelled and screamed her name. “Aubrey needs help! She’s stuck in the castle!”
With that, she darted out, put back on her sneakers and ran for the water.
“Darlie, stay here with Emma!”
Emma looked a little worried, so I tried to cheer her up. “What do you want to do?” I asked her.
“Music!” She happily grabbed my hand and took me to a room I had yet to explore. This room was the most interesting. There were big toy musical instruments. Big guitars, drums and a piano. There was also a large piano on the floor that, when you step on a key, played a note. Emma jumped from key to key. Suddenly, there was a little girl tapping harshly on the door.
“Help!” cried the little girl.
I ran out and asked her why she needed help.
“Dan! He’s stuck!” She grabbed me by my finger and took me to a new room. He was probably exploring there while I got stuck in the inflatable castle.
In this room, labeled “Jungle Gym,” there were trampolines, a basketball court and a few rock climbing walls. My brother dangled by only a harness up in the air.
I ran to find an employee. I ran into a heavy-set man named Joe.
“Come to the Jungle Gym. My brother’s stuck in a harness up in the air.”
He ran with me to where my brother was all alone. Joe was about to climb the ladder to fix one of the strings, but it was too late. Dan fell over fifty feet as the harness broke away from his tiny, skinny body. He landed on his head and lay unresponsive.
“Dan!” I ran to him and checked his breathing. There was none. Blood came from the right side of his head. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I couldn’t imagine my life without him. But my worst nightmare came true when Aubrey’s sister came back.
“Oh my God!” She screamed.
I cried, “He was stuck…he thought he would land!”
She hugged me so tight for a long time. Her eyes were flooding with her running mascara. She took me to a bench in the next room – an empty, silent study lounge.
I realized that Aubrey wasn’t with her. “Where’s Aubrey?”
She turned her head away and hugged me again. Her silence was killing me. But then I realized that Aubrey was probably dead too. When someone doesn’t answer you, it most likely means “no.”
“My best friend is gone?” I screamed, pushing her sister away from me. She nodded and gripped my small hand in hers.
A man approached us in a white polo. He had glasses and big, bulky shoulders.
“Ms. McMillan,” he affirmed. “We have another kid.”
It was Emma. She had been stomping on the piano with her feet, turns out the piano broke, causing her to fall. She had hit her head.
Aubrey’s sister told me to stay where I was since they had no idea if the little girl would regain consciousness. All I knew was I had to get out of that place. I had to sit bored with nothing but my iPad. It was only on 20%. What was the point, so I avoided using it unless I was extremely desperate.
Finally, a woman came into the Playhouse. It was my mother. Does she know? What would I tell her? I just kept my head down, hoping she wouldn’t see me and recognize my curly, black hair. Her hand clung to my shoulder. I looked up at her face, which looked misshapen. Her eyes were in a squint and turned glossy from her grief.
“I knew not to touch anything. I wanted to spare you a loss. I hated being bored here, but I had to do it…for my brother.”