Holy cow! I exclaimed. I wondered if this could really be happening. I took a step back and then a step forward. I looked down at my feet and did it again. With each step forward and each step back the scenery around me changed. It happened when I passed over the fourteenth floorboard in the middle of my attic. I didn’t feel any different when I took each step. I rubbed my arm and then scratched it. I did this to make sure that I could feel it, in this new world of my attic.
I had been up here a hundred times before, despite my grandmother telling me not to. I loved to play with the old toys that were up here as a young girl, but had never ventured to this side of the attic. Our house was pretty big and the attic was a massive room that sat on top of it, filled with boxes that were stuffed away by the people who lived here before we even moved in. There was dust, spider webs and anything else someone might think about when they imagined an old attic. Even the smell of the attic was stale and sometimes made me cough, but that didn’t stop me from coming up here.
Could this be real? I asked myself. Everything changed with one simple step. The smell changed, the lighting, the curtains on the window, everything. In this attic everything was bright and well lit. It was clean and organized. The smell was even different. It was fresh. It didn’t smell like anything specifically, it just did not smell like an attic. I held my hand out in front of me to see if it looked different, but it didn’t. It was still long and narrow right down to my fingers and my pale skin boasted a scratch mark, from when I scratched it just a moment before.
“This is crazy!” I muttered under my breath. It was my own attic. I recognized it, how could it be so different with one footstep? I looked around for answers but there was nothing. The floor of the attic was clean, as if it had just been scrubbed. It changed from a deep mahogany color on my side to newly finished pine color on the other side. I suddenly heard muffled voices coming from downstairs and the door to the attic stairway opened. Someone gasped.
“Mama, she’s here.” A girl’s voice said.
I glanced down at them. The woman looked just like my mother. The only thing was, that my mother had passed away years before. This woman had all of my mother’s features. Her long dirty blonde hair was pulled back in a clip, just the way that my mother used to wear it. She had a small nose, perfectly shaped eyebrows and glossy lips, which she pressed together when our eyes met. She wore a long blue dress that fit her small hips perfectly. The girl that stood at her side must have been her daughter, though she looked like a good mixture of my brother and me. She had the same smile as my mother and the girl shared many of my father’s features. I gasped and stepped backward.
When I did, I was back in my own attic and no one stood at the bottom of the stairs. I took a moment to gather my composure and I asked God to give me strength as my body shook with fear. Despite my fear, I decided to step back into their side of the attic. When I did, the two were already coming up the stairs toward me. I felt my eyes grow larger as they did.
“Don’t step back!” The woman exclaimed and held her hand up to me as she ran up the steps with the girl trailing behind her.
The girl seemed hesitant while the woman’s smile seemed to grow wider with every footstep. Her footsteps sounded soft on the stairs, both of theirs did. The stairs didn’t creak with each step as they did in my own attic.
“Mrs. Miller,” the girl called down the stairs.
She held the banister with her life and slowly climbed the last three stairs towards me and the woman who had already reached the top of the stairs.
“Hush now,” the woman said as she turned back to the girl. “Give us a minute.”
The girl obediently remained quite. Her long brown hair hung in a messy ponytail. Wisps of hair fell to her face as she balanced herself after coming up the last step. Her small face was flawless, no freckles as I had. Even so, she looked just like I had when I was her age.
“Gabriela,” The woman said to me.
I looked around even though I knew that this was my name. I raised one foot as though to step backwards, but then reluctantly placed it back down in front of me. The hairs on my arms stood up as the woman walked over to embrace me.
“I can feel you.” The woman said as she held me in her arms and rubbed her hands over my back. “Oh thank the good lord that I can feel you.”
The woman stepped back admiring me.
“Look at you, a little lady now. How old are you now, fifteen?” The woman questioned me.
I nodded as I stood completely still.
“Al-almost.” I muttered, looking away.
I tried not to let our eyes meet for a moment. I could feel my heart beating heavily within my chest. It seemed to be so hard and quickly that I thought that the woman and her child could hear it. I glanced over at the girl instead, examining her long brown fitted dress with my eyes. I thought it an unusual style of clothing for such a young girl. It was almost old fashioned. The fabric however, was new and fell nearly to the floor. The girl stood back, seemingly scared. She looked to be about eight years old. Just younger than my brother I guessed.
“Mama, she doesn’t know who we are.” The girl said as she brushed a wisp of hair back from her face.
She released her hold on the banister and stepped slowly to her mother’s side.
“I know Ruby.” The woman said as she turned from her to me.
She took my hand in hers and turned me to the girl.
“Gabriela, this is your sister Ruby and I… Well I am your mother, Gabriela.” The woman said, her voice lowering with every word.
I shook my head and looked from the girl to the woman. Their looks were unchanged. I stared at the two of them for a moment and thought to myself that this was some sort of evil prank my brother was playing on me. Who were these people and how did they pull this stunt off I wondered?
“No,” I said silently to them. “My mother is dead.”
I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. I tried to fight them off but I felt one roll down my cheek and fall from the side of my face. The woman touched her cheek softly as tears began to fall from her own eyes. She sighed and used the arm of her dress to wipe them away.
“I know Gabriela. I know that I am dead in your world, but I’ve made it to the second realm of life. I was one of the lucky ones, one of the good ones.” She looked from Ruby to me.
Ruby nodded her head at my mother.
“Ruby did too. God bless her. She was just a baby. Do you remember when I was pregnant last?” The woman asked me.
I finally regained control over the tears in my eyes and shook my head.
“No I don’t. I don’t remember a baby.” I said. “There’s only me and Jack-my brother.”
“No Gabriela.” The woman replied. “Do you remember about a year before I died that I was pregnant and that I lost the baby? Do you remember that you wished it to be a girl so that you wouldn’t only have Jack?”
She smiled as she wiped more tears from her eyes.
“That was her, baby Ruby. She came to stay here with Mrs. Miller and the others until I joined her.” The woman who called herself my mother said.
I shook my head as I stared blankly at her.
“This can’t be real. That’s impossible…How would you? How could she? It just doesn’t make sense. You can’t be my mother.” I said. “This is cruel, she died from Cancer.”
“Gabriela, it was Cancer in my uterus. How else could I know that? It’s very real Gabriela. This is life. It’s all controlled, more so than I ever imagined in the first level of it. I can explain everything to you, if you’ll let me.” The woman said.
She walked across the room and then back over to me and took my hand.
“This is the second realm of life, the second level. This is a place that no one ever talks about in first level. Not many know about it, or about all of us who live here. We share the same space that you live in, but are unseen by those in the first level. Well until you crossed over just now.” The woman explained.
Ruby smiled at me as she watched my expression.
“Usually Mediums and Psychics have some kind of an idea that we are here, but there is simply not enough energy or time to tell them exactly where here is.” The woman said. “There is usually only enough energy to get short messages across to them.”
The woman paused and studied my blank expression.
“I know that it must sound crazy to you Gabriela.” The woman said after a few moments.
I shook my head.
The woman smiled, but the redness from her tears still showed in her eyes. She paused before saying anything.
“Gabriela, I’ve tried to touch you a hundred times, but I’ve never been successful until now. I don’t know how you made it into our realm. I’ve never heard of this happening before. I didn’t think it was possible.” The woman said quickly. “I guarantee you that if I hold your hand and go back across that floor board you will no longer feel me or see me. I also guarantee you however, that I will still be there. I can get into your realm, easily. I watch over you… Well Ruby and I both do.”
She glanced back at Ruby whose face grew a smile from ear to ear. She wiped more wisps of hair from the sides of her face and stepped forward.
“You still sleep with the doll that Mama said she bought you when you were just a baby. You call her Hazel and talk to her like you would talk to Mama.” Ruby said giggling. “It’s pretty funny sometimes, the things that you say.”
She glanced at my mother and bit her lips together as if she had said too much.
“I didn’t think you were able to come here.” My…mother said.
She walked across the back end of the attic as she spoke.
“Sometimes I try to take your hand in mine as you sleep, but you don’t feel me. Daddy doesn’t either, I used to try to hold his hand, and to touch him. I used to lay down with him in the bed when he slept until he married Farrah and she moved in to our house, now I don’t enter our bedroom anymore.” My mother paused. “I tried to remind myself that he’d move on eventually, but I didn’t think it would be that quickly.”
Her voice cracked as she spoke. She bit down on her thin lip and looked back at Ruby. Ruby ran to her side and took her hand. My mother looked at her with a sad face for a moment and then put on a forced smile as she looked back at me.
“Ruby keeps me going.” My mother said. “Normally I wouldn’t talk to a child, the way that I talk to Ruby, but she chose to be a child when she entered this level of life. See you can choose any age that you would like to be when you enter and well, you just typically stay that age while you’re here.”
I glanced at her silently for a moment without saying anything. It may seem crazy I thought, but I was beginning to believe their story. My heart felt weird, it felt crumbly and as if it was just beginning to break away. I had missed my mother every night since her death, though I told myself that she was out of pain. It felt weird to actually see her and for her to appear to be out of the pain of her cancer, but still feeling some pain from my father’s marriage.
“It was a while after you died that he met her mom.” I forced myself to say. “They were just married two years ago. You had been dead for over four years.”
She looked over at me without saying anything for a moment. I thought she was going to fade away or disappear, but this was all so real. I still couldn’t believe it. I had felt her, I could see my scratch. This situation was extremely bizarre.
“I guess that time seems like it goes much slower for us in our level than it does for you in yours.” My mother finally said. “It’s kind of like watching a television show here, but instead we are watching over the lives of our loved ones.”
She sighed and looked at the wall.
“I suppose that it was a sufficient amount of time to allow oneself to love again. I just never thought that it would get that serious and that he would marry someone else.” My mother said softly as she allowed her shoulders to drop slightly in sadness.
“He doesn’t love her like he loved you.” I replied as I fought the urge to walk over and console her.
While I believed that she could very well be my mother, I hadn’t quite adapted to the whole idea of this plane and of her. She shook her head as she stared at me.
“You don’t need to explain sweetheart.” She responded. “I’m just so happy to hear you call me mom again.”
Ruby smiled at me, her cheeks blushed slightly, just as mine did when I was happy. How did this work I wondered? Did she learn this from watching me? If she had been able to choose her age when she got here, I wondered what age I would choose when I arrived in their plane. Should I choose an age where my mom would recognize me, or would she know it was me because she would have been watching over me for my whole life? I tried for a moment to remember things that I had said when I thought that I was alone in my room. I hoped that they hadn’t heard the angry conversations that I had with myself when I liked Michael, a boy at my school, who later ended up dating one of my best friends. I blushed in embarrassment from the mere thought. How could this be? How could another world exist within our own, I wondered silently.
“Mom, does this mean that everyone who has died, or those who existed but was never born, has made it here to this second level of life?” I asked.
“Not everyone. No.” My mother explained as she snapped back to her reality. “Only those made it here who had love in their hearts for those around them and for God. Not to mention, those who were unborn and who felt their parents love and loved them back, like Ruby, for example.”
Ruby smiled at her and nodded her head.
“There are quite a few “unborn” here. Most of them chose to be the same age that Ruby did.” Mother continued. “There are not too many that ever choose to change their age once they are here. It would be silly for them to choose to be a baby. Then they wouldn’t be able to wonder about or make decisions. There is always a life keeper who meets you when you enter this level and who helps you decide on the age that you will be. You see, from here we can decide if we want to go on to other levels, or if we want to stay here.”
She glanced from me to Ruby. Ruby nodded and my mother focused back on me and continued.
“For me, when you and Jack are ready to join us, perhaps we will go on with you if you are ready. Unless you marry before then and have children of your own, then we might decide to wait with you for them. There are families that do that.” She explained. “They just get bigger and bigger as they wait.”
They both laughed lightly.
“You see we do not know your fate, so it is like a waiting game for us.” She said. “Often those with large families will go to visit those in first level in a large group, so that they can produce more energy. Often, when they do that, it will allow those they love to sense their presence.”
She smiled widely at the thought.
“A cold breeze across their body, or a slight movement of the curtain is something we do from time to time.” She said. “Normally we don’t try to shake things up too much and scare you, but there are those who find it amusing when they do.”
The two laughed aloud momentarily as though they were sharing the same thought.
“Roman Aguilar managed to spin his daughter’s radio tuner with the help of his grandmother and aunts, but never did it again when he saw how much it scared her.” My mother said.
Ruby and my Mother laughed for a while before regaining their composure. I smiled as I watched the two of them. My mother was so beautiful. I loved seeing her happy. That’s what I remembered most about her and missed. Her smile could light up a room and for the last three months before her death she seemed to live in agony. It was good to see her happy. My mother cleared her throat and proceeded to tell me about how her realm worked.
“Mrs. Miller, who is basically in charge of this house as her families been here the longest is waiting for her Husband. He’s almost here.” Mother said lightly. “Then the two of them can decide together whether they want to stay or go on. They have two children. The children are grown up now and have grandchildren of their own.”
She sighed as she thought it over.
“They don’t do much for Mr. Miller. He lives in a nursing home and they rarely go to visit with him. He is a very sad man in his current life.” Mother explained. “Mr. Miller is ninety four, but in our realm Mrs. Miller chose to be twenty four, the age that she was when they got married. It will be interesting to see what age he decides to be when he gets here. Life is nearly perfect here.”
She stopped and looked around the room before continuing.
“The only bad thing is that sometimes those whose hearts were lost around the way, and turned to evil get into our realm and try to shake things up.” Mother said. “They can’t hurt us, but they try to get to our loved ones in the first life and try to persuade them to do evil. It can be a little scary at times, isn’t that right Ruby?”
Ruby nodded her head and looked down the stairway at a boy who had appeared in it. He was a young boy, about her age with a short haircut. He stood at the foot of the stairs listening as he leaned against the wall, seemingly upset.
“That is Charles, his mother is here too.” Ruby said as she nodded down at him.
Charles ran from the stairwell slamming the door behind him.
“We’ve never seen anyone cross over from first realm before. “ My mother explained. “This is generally the entrance that we all use to get into first realm to check on our loved ones. No one has gone across today, it’s Sunday. We generally don’t cross on Sunday, unless we know there is a major event taking place that we want to be a part of.”
She glanced down the stairs, as if trying to make sure that he was gone.
Charles has been debating on crossing over to see if his father is ready to come across. Sometimes when they are getting ready to cross over, they can see us.” She said. “He doesn’t want to alarm anyone.”
She paused again before continuing.
“I wonder if it is only you that can cross over, or if others can cross over with you.” She shook her head from the thought.
“Should I go and get Jack and give it a try?” I asked hesitantly.
I looked from my Mother to Ruby. Ruby had a sparkle in her eye at the thought.
“No, that’s fine. I just want to enjoy you for a bit.” My mother said quickly. “You may not be able to come back to us. This could just be some type of glitch.”
We all remained silent for a moment.
“Do you want to come down and meet the others?” My mother asked. “There are quite a few of us that live in this house. We live in your house, just on the other level.”
I shook my head.
“No, I’m fine.” I replied. “I’m just really confused right now. How many people live here?”
My mother smiled warmly.
“There are about ten families right now. Katie and Mr. Barr just left.” She replied. “They decided to move on to the next level. There were twelve families last week and once we even had fifteen families living here at one time. That was a little nuts. Fun, but nuts.”
“How many levels are there?” I asked.
“No one knows for sure.” My mother said quickly. “No one has ever come back to tell us. Once they’re gone, they are just gone. There are other houses with entrances and tons of families as well. So unless they come back to our house, we don’t see them. Generally we choose a house that is close to our families. I was lucky because ours had an entrance.”
Ruby nodded happily as my mother spoke.
“When I got here, Ruby was the only one I found, or rather she found me.” My mother said. “I’m not sure if other members of our family are here, or if they’ve moved on.”
“I’d better get back to my own level.” I said lightly.
I didn’t want to leave, but the curiosity of how much time had passed and of my own reality was beginning to get to me. As much as I loved my mother, I also didn’t want to get stuck here.
“Can you come back to visit us again,” My mother asked. “Next week. The same time perhaps?”
As I stared at her, her eyes widened in anticipation of my answer.
“I will.” I said and nodded. “Maybe I will even try to bring Jack with me.”
My mother clapped her hands together in delight.
“Oh that would be perfect.” She said.
She walked across the room to hug me, as did Ruby. It was a warm embrace. Her thin arms grasped me tightly and she seemed reluctant to let me go. I remembered her scent immediately. I sometimes thought that I had smelled the sweet smell of her perfume as I sat in my room alone. I wondered if this had been one of the times that she had tried to hold me.
Ruby hugged me softly and I noticed that she smelled the same way my mother did. Her rosy cheeks reddened as she hugged me and stared up at me. I touched her hair with my hand and felt the silkiness of it fall as I brushed my hand over it. She was a head shorter than I was. Her skin felt soft as she held me tightly. My Mother smiled warmly at the two of us. I stepped back and retreated to the fourteenth floorboard. My mother walked towards me as I did.
“Wait, just in case you become stuck in your own level and can’t get back.” She exclaimed. “Don’t forget that I love you and am waiting for you and Jack. Tell him that I love him too. That we both do.”
She smiled back at Ruby. I nodded at her and retreated across the floorboard. I coughed as I entered the dust filled room. I looked over my shoulder as I stepped further into the room. I wondered if they could see me. I wondered if my experience was real and how much time had passed. Either way, I decided that I had to tell Jack immediately and ran down the stairs and through the door of my attic.
“Ah,” Jack screamed as I did.
He was wearing a gorilla mask, obviously trying to scare me. I jumped but did not scream. I was used to my little brother.
“Jack, how long have I been up there?” I asked breathlessly.
“You just went up.” He said, removing the mask from his freckled face.
“I have to tell you something.” I exclaimed immediately.
“What, you’re not going to kill me for trying to scare you?” He asked brushing his sweaty hair back from his face.
I breathed in and then proceeded to tell him everything that had just happened. I told him about the floorboard, my mother and even Ruby. I told him how my mother seemed to be sad that my father had married Farrah. At first he smiled, but then tears welled up in his eyes and he began to cry. Jack had never really known my mother and I suddenly wondered if I had done the right thing. He asked me often about her and was slightly jealous that I was the one who had been old enough to really remember her. He didn’t remember much about her, though he tried repeatedly to remember her and things that had happened through my stories and by going through picture alums that we had with pictures of her.
He suddenly turned and ran away from me and downstairs to the living room. Seconds later I heard Farrah and my dad ask him what was wrong and he told them the seemingly insane story that I had just shared with him.
I retreated to my room and sat down on the soft white comforter on my bed. I looked at my pink bedroom walls. I was the only teenage girl that I knew of with pastel pink bedroom walls, but I refused to paint them since my mother was the one who had painted them pink specifically for me when we moved into this house.
I looked over at my dresser where a picture of my mother and me as a young girl sat. The picture was before she found out that she had cancer and when everything in our lives was perfect. Jack was about two when this picture was taken, but it was one that I had insisted on taking of just the two of us. I walked over and picked it up and retreated to my bed. She was so beautiful I thought. She looked exactly as she had today. I wondered how my life would be if she was still around. I remembered that when my father and my mother had bought this house my grandmother was extremely upset. She said she had a bad vibe from the house and would never visit us. Five months later, when her husband died she moved in with us. She was always saying that she heard things or saw people moving about, Dad thought she was senile.
“Gabriela, that was extremely insensitive of you!” I heard my Dad call up the stairs to me.
I sighed. Dad didn’t expect a response. He never did anymore, he was so wrapped up in Farrah and making her happy, just the way that he used to be with my mom. I shook my head in disgust. I wished that my mom was there. It helped knowing that I could find her in my attic, but I wished that she had never crossed into the second level of life as she said. Just then there was a breeze at the window that moved the curtain slightly.
Was that them? I wondered to myself. Were they here with me now? I looked around the room for a sign of something else. There were no movements, and nothing different about the room that I noticed. It was slightly windy outside, I thought to myself. I wondered how I would ever be able to not question small things like this without wondering if they were around. It was Sunday I told myself, they wouldn’t be visiting today, unless something big was going to happen I remembered my mother saying. I suddenly jumped up from my bed and ran downstairs to check on my Grandmother.