Penelope Sea sat alone at the end of a lunch table in the cafeteria of her new elementary school. She hadn’t made any friends yet. She didn’t want to make new friends She wanted to be with her old friends, in her old school, in her old town. All the children here looked at her funny, and the food that the pink-haired lunch lady served didn’t taste right. Although she had only been enrolled in Dolphin Elementary for one week, Penelope decided she definitely did not like it here.
The only thing Penelope did like about having moved towns, moved houses, and moved schools was her very own personal house key. She wore it on a shiny silver chain around her neck. Penelope was only eight. She thought she was special because after school she got to stay at home while her parents worked.
Penelope’s parents thought she was special because she liked to read and she listened when people talked and she always asked “May I please?” and never caused them any trouble. Which made her the perfect child. But then, all parents think their child is the perfect child, at least, some of the time.
Penelope wished she didn’t have to go to school at all, at least, not to this new school. This new school could never compare to her old school, where she had learned so much. Penelope was certain she wouldn’t learn half as much here. Ideally she would stay at home and read her books. But ideally did not always happen. Penelope did have to go to her new school, so she sat by herself at the end of a table in her new cafeteria and wished for the end of the school day while she ate the weird concoction of Fritos, taco meat, and cheese that she got from the pink-haired lunch lady.
Eventually, Penelope Sea’s first week at her new elementary school ended and that Friday afternoon, she boarded the faded yellow school bus to go home. With every fresh moment spent behind Mrs. Hindenbrand, the bespectacled round bus driver, Penelope felt better and better. She was finally going home for the day. With a whole weekend of home in front of her. She felt the same about going home and letting herself in with her very own personal house key as most kids felt about going to Disney World or the state fair.
Mrs. Hindenbrand felt the same way as Penelope about the bus ride home. Mrs.
Hindenbrand’s stop was, of course, the last one, and Penelope’s was next to last, so they spent a lot of time together anticipating home. Penelope and Mrs. Hindenbrand would talk about all sorts of things while they waited for the bus ride to wind to a close and for all the other children to get off one by one at their stops.
Today they talked about how pretty the orange trees were when they were in bloom, and how difficult it must be to grow apples here with such a warm climate. Penelope liked Mrs. Hindenbrand because she talked with her like Penelope was another grown-up, and because her round cheeks were pink and her laugh sounded like bubbles. Mrs. Hindenbrand liked Penelope because she didn’t shout on the bus or leave gooey gum stuck on the floor and because her blonde hair was almost white. Penelope and Mrs. Hindenbrand felt as though they had been friends forever.
That’s why they got on so well. They had really only known each other for one week.
Mrs. Hindenbrand left Penelope at her stop almost right in front of her new home with a “Stay safe, sugar, and I’ll see you on Monday.”
Penelope waived at the faded yellow school bus and ran up the sidewalk to her front door. She let herself in quickly and locked the door behind her before calling her mom at work to report that she was back from school and safe.
“What did you do at school today?”
“Did you make any friends yet?”
“I don’t want new friends; the old ones were just fine.”
“The cafeteria had a really awful Frito thing for lunch today.”
“I’ll make a lunch for you to take on Monday.”
“Did you lock the door when you got inside?”
“Yes, I locked the door, mummy.”
And then they said goodbye until they would talk again in a couple of hours, because Penelope’s mom always called again to make sure her daughter knew that she was really not alone.
Penelope knew her mother would rather be home with her and would rather Penelope not have to let herself into her house with her very own personal house key, but her mom had to work to help her dad pay for the new house and the move and Penelope’s books and clothes. Penelope knew all this and so it didn’t bother her that her mom was at work and not at home when Penelope got back from school. It didn’t even bother her when she dragged her book bag up the dark wooden stairs trying not to spill the large cup of iced tea she had poured for herself.
She had two more boxes to unpack before her room was almost as perfect as her old room had been in her old house. After only successfully unpacking one box, Penelope felt restless. She walked out of her periwinkle colored room, into the hallway and looked down at the attic door on the far end. Penelope had never lived anywhere with an attic before. She thought it was the most fascinating thing in the whole house.
The door at the very end of the hallway, that led to the attic, had a blue and green stained glass window in it. It made a picture of a dragonfly. Although Penelope didn’t know quite what she thought of dragonflies, they were bugs after all, she loved the stained glass window on the attic door.
Penelope only had the opportunity to explore exactly two stairs of the space beyond the attic door. She had been talking to her mother the day they had arrived in town and had trailed along behind the impossibly tall woman all the way to the second step inside the attic. Her mom was stowing away boxes that needn’t be unpacked right away. Thoughts of what might be beyond that second step had kept Penelope awake several nights the last week.
So Penelope made her way up the long second story hallway to the attic door. Once on the second step past it, she paused, never being beyond that step before. But Penelope could never contain her curiosity, so she forged on. Once Penelope Sea had got to the top of the stairs that lay beyond the attic door she was a little disappointed. It was just dust and boxes.
Penelope was sure there must be more to an attic that lived behind such a marvelous door with a stained glass dragonfly window in it, and that’s when, peering into the gloom, Penelope saw a door. She had never heard of attics with rooms in them. Even in her limited experience with attics, Penelope knew this was special. Maybe even more special than having her very own personal house key!
If she squinted she could just see that the walls in the room behind the door within the attic were blue. The door was just open maybe a foot, you see. And in the blue walled room was something that looked like the tail end of a rocking horse!
She was just about to climb through the boxes to find out if it was indeed a rocking horse in the blue room when the doorbell rang. Suddenly, feeling as though she had been caught doing something terribly naughty, Penelope rushed out of the attic and shut the stained glass windowed door behind her.
When Penelope arrived at the front door she very clearly called out, “Who is it?”
A muffled and quavering voice on the other side answered, “It’s Mrs. Durnsbetty, dear, and I have an afternoon snack for you.”
Penelope knew Mrs. Durnsbetty. She was the kind-faced blue haired lady who lived next door and gardened all day long and shook her cane at the paperboy because he always left her papers in puddles. Penelope’s parents had introduced them both as soon as Penelope and her mother had joined her father in their new house. Since then Mrs. Durnsbetty often came over to keep Penelope company after school. And Penelope’s parents had told her it was ok for Mrs. Durnsbetty to come in the house when they weren’t there. But only Mrs. Durnsbetty and no one else.
Penelope peeked through the mail slot just to make sure. As children on their own should always make sure before opening the door. And then helped her neighbor to the living room where they could have tea, remembering to lock the door again after it was shut.
Besides lemon-bars, Penelope’s personal favorite, Mrs. Durnsbetty brought with her a book that she and Penelope had been reading. Squashing down the niggling curiosity about the blue room in the attic and resolving to deal with it later, Penelope made herself comfortable on the couch next to her neighbor so she could see the pictures in the book and read along.
Thoughts of the blue room plagued Penelope throughout her visit with Mrs. Durnsbetty and all the way through dinner with her parents. Penelope formulated a plan to sneak up to the attic after everyone was asleep. She would take the silver colored flash-light her dad had gotten her in case of power-outages and find out once and for all what was behind that door.
After she said her good-nights and had been safely tucked into her bed, Penelope changed into clothes that would better suit attic forays. She grabbed her flashlight and climbed back in bed to wait for the sounds of the house to quiet. It seemed like an eternity before she heard her parents make their way up the stairs and down the upstairs hallway to their bedroom. Penelope was getting more excited with every passing second but she knew she would have to wait just a bit longer.
When Penelope felt the time was right to move, she slid out of bed as quietly as she could manage and stuck her head out her door and into the hallway. Her parent’s bedroom light was off. She tiptoed down the hall and, putting her flashlight under her arm, used both hands to slowly turn the doorknob on the attic door.
Once on the other side, Penelope again used both hands on the doorknob to close it as silently as she could. Which was not silently enough in Penelope’s opinion. Halfway to her goal, she stopped and stood still, listening for any noises that would indicate her trip had been noticed. When no sounds met her ears and no lights filtered under the door or through the stained glass, she let out a relieved breath. Satisfied that she was still the only awake person in the house, Penelope turned her attention to the attic stairs, turned on her flashlight and started up the steps.
In the attic was an obstacle course of boxes and suitcases and odd dining room chairs that Penelope had to make her way over and under in order to reach the door that led to the blue room. Once she arrived at the doorway, Penelope pushed open the door all the way to reveal a very well-stocked child’s play-room. There was indeed a rocking horse by the door as she had suspected. There was also an open toy chest filled with wooden and metal toys that Penelope thought must be very old. The ceiling was painted with clouds and there were mobiles of every sort hanging down from it. A small daybed was pushed up against the wall on her right and across from it, in the corner was a beautiful doll house.
Even though everything was covered in a great blanket of dust, Penelope felt as though she had discovered the best place on earth. She wasted no time in inspecting all the toys in the toy-chest. Or reading the titles on all the books on the shelves, or diving through a trunk full of dress-up costumes. Penelope took a short ride on the rocking horse then turned her attention to the dollhouse in the corner. It was a beautiful little house-made of real wood and covered in real miniature shingles, painted yellow and fronted by a porch that stretched the entire side of the house on which sat one rocking chair. And the front door was a tiny replica of the door to the attic with its own tiny stained glass window of a dragonfly.
Penelope opened the doors and windows and rearranged the furniture in the little house as if she were running through a life size house. She kept exploring the miniature until she started feeling sleepy. She wanted so much to stay but she knew she would get in trouble if she were caught investigating the attic, and if she fell asleep here her parents would be frantic as they searched for her. So she turned away from the open dollhouse and after putting all the toys and books she had taken out back in their places, Penelope left the room, making sure the door was only as open as it was before she got there.
With flashlight in hand Penelope climbed over and under the obstructing boxes and furniture, then down the stairs to the attic door. Once there she turned off her flashlight and again stowed it under her arm so she could use both hands to open and close the door.
Turning herself around the door, Penelope was so sleepy and so lost in the dark without the beam of light from her flashlight that she did not notice the space on the other side of the attic door from the attic was no longer the upstairs hallway in her new house. She did not notice this until she turned around, intent on tiptoeing quietly down the hall to her bedroom, and found there was no hall, no bedroom. Instead there was a very broad porch with a rocking chair and the sound of crickets in the night and complete blackness beyond.