It was a girl's upper torso and face, that much was obvious. A young girl, maybe eight years old, in a red jumper with blond hair hanging to her shoulders. Her mouth was open as if she were laughing. Laughing or...
"Jesus, Alan," said Trish. "Is that girl screaming?"
"Wait," he said. "I know what happened. I mean, the Google truck or whatever must've come by when the Heslops still lived here. There must've been a window there they covered over before they sold it. I bet that's George Heslop's kid."
"That's my car in the driveway, Alan."
"Heslop must've had a Saturn, too. It's obviously his car if the window is still there."
"But Alan," said Trish. "That's my Obama 2012 bumper sticker on the back of the Saturn. And there, in the Florida room, you can see your poster through the window. That Lord of the Rings poster you hung on the wall."
Alan creased his brow, thinking.
"So there's not even a window there now?" asked Henry.
"No," said Trish. "It's just siding."
"But, I mean, what's there? What's there where the window is? What's there now?"
"It's a linen closet."
They climbed the creaky old stairs to the second floor, various drinks in hand.
Across the landing from the topmost step was a wall with two doors that opened out. Trish crossed to it and with a look back to her audience opened the doors with a flourish, half expecting some hysterical little girl to come tumbling out. But inside there were only towels and toilet paper, various over-the-counter remedies for cough and cold, and a box of Tampax.
"You know," said Henry, sipping his beer, "it is a rather thin closet."
In fact there was only enough room for the towels if you double-folded them before placing them inside. Yes, it was a thin closet. A very thin closet, come to think of it. And that really didn't make any sense considering how their adjacent bedroom and the bathroom on the other side of the closet both extended all the way to the front eaves of the old house.
Without explaining, Alan walked into their bedroom. Everyone followed a few steps behind.
"Give me hand," Alan said to Henry. The two men pushed a low dresser away from the wall. Behind it was a little wooden door, the kind of handmade door one might find in a playhouse or some Grimm's fairy tale.
"Where does that go?" asked Sara.
"Plumbing access for the bathroom," said Alan. "That's what I thought, anyway. But that window, if it was ever here, it would have to be between the bathroom and this bedroom and the only thing in-between is whatever is behind this door."
"What do you mean, 'if it was ever here?'" said Sara. "It was in the photo. Clear as anything."
Alan sighed. He'd never liked Sara. She was a very black-and-white type of person, the sort of person who missed the subtle beauty of the world because she was always too busy putting on her mascara in the car on her way to work. She never thought to question what she knew to be true.
"You know what Google Earth is?" he asked her. "It's just a collection of pictures taken from that truck that goes by. It looks like one seamless kind of reality because they have a computer that takes the photos and lays them on top of each other and then polishes out the seams."
"I don't get it," said Sara.
"Well, like with any computer program, sometimes there are glitches. Sometimes the seams don't get polished right and you get a picture of a man walking down the street without a head. The part of the photo where his head should be was taken a few seconds later and so it doesn't match up right. And sometimes a glitch might cause a photograph from one area to overlap on a scene somewhere else if the coding isn't right."
"Henry," said Sara, "do you understand what he's saying?"
"I'm saying," said Alan, his voice beginning to take on a hard edge that caused Trish to shake her head at him, "that perhaps the picture of that girl at the window was misplaced from a series of pictures of another home and mistakenly overlaid on top of our house."
Sara crinkled her eyebrows. She didn't have to say anything. Clearly, she would not consider the possibility that Google, of all things, was fallible. Not when being afraid of it was the foundation of half her life.
"Open the door," said Trish.
But suddenly Alan didn't want to. Sara was part of it, sure. Some part of him really felt that whatever was behind the door, and most probably it was just a bunch of pipes and mouse turds, whatever was back there, she didn't deserve to see it. Also it was cold in here, again, even though it was at least sixty-eight outside in the sun. It felt like fifty in here all of a sudden. The air bit at his exposed neck and made him want to go back downstairs where it was always warm. Anywhere but here. Anywhere but with these people.
In the end, Henry was the one who knelt down and opened the wooden door. It held for a second, then popped open, sending a puff of plaster into the air around it. Henry coughed dramatically and patted the dust away with one hand. On the other side of the door was a brick wall. And on the wall was written: NEVER OPEN.
"What do you think it means?" asked Sara.
"I think its meaning is fairly clear," said Alan.
"Yes, well," said Henry, setting down his glass and crossing his thick arms. "It's an odd thing to write."
"And why did they seal it off in the first place? I mean if it is an access to the bathroom or whatever."
Alan stood and raked his fingers through his hair.