I just recently moved back to my hometown after graduating from college and working out of state for a few years. I went on a tour of my old stomping grounds, stopping at my old high school, a few of my first jobs, a couple old hangouts my friends and I used to frequent, and generally just took a quick little tour of the place that I was born and raised in. Towards the end of my walk around the westernmost part of the small town, I came to a spot that stuck out in my mind, but I couldn’t place why.
There was a large, dilapidated yellow brick building that stood at the intersection of two otherwise sparsely built-upon streets. The bricks were old and the yellow paint that covered them was chipping and withering away. Boards covered the windows and chains kept anyone trying to enter through the front doors from doing so. It was clear to me that this building had been abandoned for some time. On the northeast corner of the building was a small, 7-step staircase that lead down to a rusty gray door with what looked like a pet door at the bottom of it. There was a board covering what must have once been a window on the door as well. I got a strange feeling of deja vu when I saw this, but I just couldn’t bring myself to figure out why it felt so familiar.
I went to my new house and began unpacking. One of my childhood friends who I’d kept in touch with throughout life came over to help out in getting me situated. Over a few beers later that night, the burning image of that staircase in my mind finally made me inquire. I asked my friend if he remembered anything about a yellow building with a small staircase. He stopped in the middle of taking a drink from his beer and just peered at me. I asked him why he was looking at me like that, and he replied.
”You really don’t remember the magic door?” he asked.
”Magic door?” I replied.
”Come on. Think about it. I mean, trust me, I tried blocking it out too, but none of us could ever completely get that out of our heads. Especially you.”
And with that, it came back to me.
The “magic door” my friend spoke of was in fact the old, gray door at the bottom of the stairs. When we were just kids, the older siblings of friends of ours once regaled to us the rules of the “magic door”.
“First, you write down your most favorite thing you have in your house on a piece of paper. It can be whatever you want, so long as it fits through the little door at the bottom of the gray door. When you go down the stairs, you have to go down with someone else. You can NEVER go alone. When you go down there, you and the person you go with have to knock on the mirror three times each. One of you goes, then the other. If the magician accepts you two, he will knock back three times. After that, you both put your pieces of paper in through the little door, and then knock three times each again. If the magician accepts your items, he will again knock back three times. Then, you have to run up the stairs as fast as you can. Then you leave and go straight home, and no one you’re with can look back at the door. You then put the item you chose on the floor next to your bed when you go to sleep. Then just you and the person you went down with come back to the stairs, and say the magic words: “Pick me, Mr. Magician”. Then go straight home again without looking back. Go about your night like you would any other, just MAKE SURE your item is next to your bed. Then you and whoever else you went down there with and whoever else wants to see come back to the door exactly 24 hours later. You both go back down, each knock three times, wait for the knock back, and then one of you reaches in the little door and pulls out whatever is inside. Whichever of your things gets picked, is the one who the magic trick worked for. There are three rules. 1. You can NEVER do it alone. 2. You can NEVER tell adults about the door. And 3. Whoever the trick worked for, you might see the magician someday, but you can NEVER tell ANYBODY. Not your parents, not your best friends.”
The revelation made me sick to my stomach. I had once been a part of the “magic door trick”.
I was in second grade, and me and a different friend than the one I’ve been speaking of were inseparable. A mutual friend of ours’ older brother and his friends had just told us about the magic door, so we decided to try it. The two of us, along with a group of other boys from our neighborhood, took the short detour to the building on our walk home from school. The building was in much better condition back then; I remember its yellow bricks seemed to glow against the bland backdrop of the surrounding countryside. We got to the staircase, and everyone argued about who was going to go. Not because everyone wanted to, but because no one did. Even though the “rules” and method of “play” seemed innocent enough, the minds of us children wandered when we thought about what could happen down at that door. After some bickering, it was decided that my friend and I would be the ones to descend the stairs. We each took a piece of paper out of our backpacks and wrote down our respective favorite items. I chose my mint-condition Robin Yount rookie baseball card, and my friend chose the stuffed animal that “protected” his room every night.
We folded our pieces of paper in half and took our first step down. I remember my heart began beating quicker. After our second and third steps down, the hair on my arms and the back of my neck stood up. Steps four and five made me feel cold, but also made me begin sweating. I found myself getting short of breath at the sixth step, and when I set my foot down on the ground in that seventh step, I was nearly paralyzed with fear. I looked at my friend as we stood in front of the almost shining gray door. We looked at ourselves in the mirror that faced us on the door where a window should’ve been, and I could see the fear in my own eyes. I looked to my friend, who shook his head, confirming we were going to continue. I knocked on the mirror three times, then my friend followed suit. There was a brief pause that felt like it took an eternity, but finally, we heard three taps from the other side. The first responding tap nearly made me jump out of my skin. I looked into the mirror and saw my friends at the top of the stairs watching down at us intently.
My friend and I both knelt down and put our pieces of paper in the small door. We then stood up and each knocked three times. After another short wait, we heard three knocks emanate from the other side, and with that, we turned around and ran up the stairs as fast as we could. As soon as we crossed the threshold, our friends joined us and we ran to our respective homes without looking back. I put my prized baseball card on the floor next to my bed, and went three houses down to my friends house. We rode our bikes the few blocks back to the stairs and said stood atop the staircase, gazing down at the door. We then silently counted to three, and loudly said the magic words: “Pick me, Mr. Magician!”, and biked back to our houses. It was a Friday night that night, and I could barely sleep, especially knowing I wouldn’t have school to keep me occupied the whole next day until it would finally be time to see if the trick worked for me or not.
It didn’t occur to me at the time that if I wasn’t “picked” by the magician, I would ostensibly lose my Robin Yount rookie card forever. The thought that I wouldn’t be picked never even crossed my mind. I was far too optimistic for what the situation truly called for. That night I finally fell asleep, and when I awoke, my card was gone. I did my best to keep myself occupied during the time between my waking up and when it was finally time to go see the end of the “trick”. When the time finally came, my friend and I biked back, and were met by a few of the friends who had been there yesterday, and a few new ones, including the friend helping me unpack in the present; we weren’t quite acquainted yet. Me and the friend I’d went down the stairs with the day prior descended them once again. We did the knocks, received them back, and then looked at each other, silently debating over who should reach in the small door to see the winner. I’m not quite sure when it was decided that I would be the one to do it, but it was.
I put my fingertips against the small, swinging door and lightly applied pressure. Even as small as it was, it let out a groan that could’ve filled a room. I reached in, and felt my heart sink to my stomach when I felt a plush object. As I pulled out what would be my friend’s stuffed animal, I felt something graze the top of my wrist and hand. It felt cold, and clammy, and startled me enough to almost drop my friend’s prized possession. Luckily I didn’t, and a smile spread across his face as I pulled his beloved bedtime friend out from the small, swinging door. He grabbed it from me and began chanting ”He picked me! He picked me!”. We were all satisfied, and went on about our day.
On Monday, the friend I’d done the trick with wasn’t at school. Or the next day, or the next. One of those days, there was an announcement that we should all use the “buddy system” when walking home from school, and a letter was sent home to all parents.
That night, I went home, and my parents sat me down before dinner. I remember some of the questions they asked me. “Had I been approached by any strangers recently?” “Did any adults try to get me to go anywhere with them?” “Did my friend mention any new, older friends he had made recently?” I replied “no” to each question, but deep down I knew who they were talking about. The magician.
It turns out that this “magician” would spread the word of his “trick” to children around a certain town, and play his “game” without any dire consequences for a little while, but would eventually choose his ultimate target. My friend was that target.
The day we did the trick was all an elaborate ruse, which now, as an adult, I could’ve seen from a mile away. The first time the players would go home to put the items next to their beds, he would follow one of the kids home. They would return to the door, as would he via a different route, and do the next portion of the “trick”. After saying the “magic” words, and leaving once again, he would then follow the other child home. It’s my belief that he followed both home so as to determine who would be an easier target overall. The knocking was the magician’s way of letting the kids know that he had accepted one of them, after viewing them through the 2-way mirror that was placed on the door where a regular window would normally have been.
He would then enter the homes of both boys while they slept, and take their items. I believe he would take both so as to have a trophy from his little “hunt”. He would keep the trophy from the boy he didn’t “choose” for the trick, and well, the other boy would get the….full magician experience, as sick as that is to say.
I had blocked out what happened to my friend, forced myself to have no memory of the horrid things that he went through. The memories flooded back when I came to this overall realization of what the staircase was. I remembered the worried looks on my parents faces that whole week, and all the police cars and news trucks outside my friend’s house. I was young, so I didn’t entirely understand what was going on, but I knew one thing. My friend was gone.
Late one night the following week, my friend was found, walking down the sidewalk wearing only his underwear. I heard that he was dirty and bruised, and from the looks of it hadn’t eaten the entire time he was gone. These little tidbits were just things I put together from overhearing the adults talk about the situation. The “magician” had “appeared” to my friend, and kidnapped him. My friend just said that he was in a basement, and refused to give any other details about where he was. All the kids knew that he was in the basement of the yellow building, but none of us had enough courage to speak up. We didn’t want to break the rules of the “trick”.
I’m going to choose not to describe in detail the horrors my friend went through while in the company of the magician. In short, he was essentially the magician’s “plaything” during his time with him, a slave of sorts, for all things brutal and sexual. The effects that this had on my friend were apparent throughout his childhood. He became withdrawn, and once it was decided he would be homeschooled, we rarely saw him, perhaps only in passing at a grocery store or some other public place we both happened to be at the same time. After middle school, I never heard from or saw him again. I was under the impression that he had moved away with his family, as their house eventually had a “for sale” sign in front of it.
”You know Matty didn’t move away with his parents, right?” My friend asked me in the present.
”Yeah he did, I remember his house going up for sale. I remember the people that moved in after they left, actually.”
”Yeah, no, his parents moved. But they moved, because…you seriously don’t remember?” He asked, questioning my sanity due to my lack of memory.
And then it came to me. Matty, the friend with whom I had done the “trick” at the “magic door”, didn’t move away. His parents moved away after Matty hung himself with a belt in his bedroom closet, apparently unable to cope with the horrid memories that surely plagued him every day. A tear escaped from my eye as my friend patted his hand on my shoulder, assuring me it was all a thing of the past.
All I could think of was the fact that no one had ever told the police about the door on the yellow building. In our adolescence, we were all too worried about the repercussions of breaking the “rules” that had been laid out before us. I do remember that the entire yellow building only had one business, and it was an independent carpet cleaning company. Cress’s Carpet Cleaning used only one office on the first floor of the building, and the rest of it was unused. A few years after the incident with Matty, for unrelated reasons, Cress’s Carpet Cleaning shut down operations, and moved into its own property a town over. Since then, the building has been vacant, at some point being foreclosed by the bank.
It was my impression that no one has been in the basement of the yellow building in a long time. Maybe not since what happened with Matty. I have a feeling in my gut that tells me that that is where Matty was when he was missing for that week. No one was ever caught for the kidnapping of Matty. No one else ever tried to do the “trick” again. I went by myself back to the yellow building the next day. I slowly walked down the steps and approached the rusted gray door.
I knocked three times and waited. And waited. And waited. I turned around to go back to my life, and started up the steps.
Knock. Knock. Knock.