Why is there a tree growing through the middle of the living room? Cassi thought to herself.
Cassi had been startled awake by what sounded like a burst of thunder. The hair on her arms stood on end, and in her gut, she knew something was wrong. She looked out of the bedroom window and did not see a cloud in the sky.
Deciding to get a glass of water, Cassi crawled out of bed and headed to the kitchen. As she walked quietly through the house, it felt strange, as though she were walking through a dream. The artwork hanging on the walls, musty odors, and furnishings felt both familiar and unfamiliar.
Descending a stairway into the living room, Cassi found Mr. Phelps sitting in his favorite armchair next to a floor lamp asleep with a copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz balanced on his lap. A few feet to his left stood the trunk of a sturdy tree jutting up through the floor and upwards through the ceiling. With no debris, it appeared as though the house had been built intentionally around the tree, which was impossible since it had not been there the night before.
Adrenaline coursing through her body, Cassi turned around and ran back upstairs taking two at a time toward her mother and sister’s room. Opening the door, she discovered the beds were made and had not been slept in. Cassi’s mother and sister were nowhere to be found. She and Mr. Phelps were the only two people present in the house. Returning to her room, Cassi sat against a wall in the corner of the room facing the doorway. Hugging her knees tightly, Cassi had never felt so alone.
Cassi solemnly walked into the bedroom Haley shared with their mother. She went through the drawers of the dresser and nightstands, looked in their closet, in between the mattresses, under the pillows and blankets for any remnants of their belongings, but found nothing. They were gone. Had they left her there alone? Had they been found and taken like her father?
The house was quiet. Cassi went back to her room and filled her backpack with all of her belongings. Picking up her journal, she flipped through to her last entry and with some relief, discovered none of it had changed.
“Maybe I’m not going crazy,” Cassi said aloud. The words reverberated acoustically around the walls of her room. She grabbed her backpack, took one last look around the room she had been living in for the past few months and decided to see if anything else had changed outside of the new tree adorning the living room.
Cassi quietly walked down the stairs taking care not to wake the still sleeping Mr. Phelps. She opened the front door and was unprepared for the entirely transformed landscape before her.
After a moment of shock, Cassi realized she was holding her breath.
Breathe Cassi…just breathe.
Taking slow deep breaths, Cassi tried to make sense of what she was seeing.
The day before, when Cassi stepped out of the house, she saw green hills in the distance and a road leading into town. But all of that was gone and her view now encompassed snow-capped mountains and hillsides covered with trees nearly camouflaging a rocky terrain. A few feet in front of the porch she saw that a narrow dirt path had replaced the roadway formerly leading into Hardwick.
Cassi wondered if she should go back inside and request assistance from Mr. Phelps but thought better of it. He had only been at the house for a short time, and she was unsure how he would handle the news that they were not in Kansas anymore. She smiled to herself, briefly entertained by her Wizard of Oz reference.
“A dirt path is still a path to somewhere,” Cassi said aloud to give herself courage to take that first step off the porch toward discovering where she was and what had happened to her mother and sister.
As Cassi began walking, she looked back and was unsettled by what she saw. The Victorian house was balanced on a rocky ledge and held in place by a large, sturdy pine tree with its trunk growing through the house.
“Maybe I am crazy after all!” Cassi said fearfully. Feeling panic and fear bubbling up inside her, she turned to face the path and sprinted to get as far away from the house as fast as she could.
- Tom Conti