The Mogwai – Pandora
‘Mogwai’ means “evil spirit” or “devil” in Cantonese (Chinese: 魔鬼; pinyin: móguǐ; Jyutping: mo¹gwai²)
In late October of 1984, Celine, age 8, had gone to the neighbor’s house to watch a movie. She felt lucky to live next door the first family she knew who owned a VCR. One of the teenagers who lived next door used to babysit Celine and now worked at a video store and would bring home movies on the weekends.
Celine was dying to see a movie, any movie, but always had to wait for the invitation. When the call came on Saturday she squealed with delight.
“Mama! I’m going to watch a movie at the Lee’s! Bye!” And she was out the door. Nahlie the family boxer watched from screen door as she ran to the gate.
“Be home in time to come to dinner with us,” her mother yelled from the living room.
They lived on the edge of Seattle’s Chinatown (now known as the International District) in an area that was rapidly gentrifying. They were one of the first white families to move in to the mostly Asian neighborhood. Celine’s father had been pleased to be able to purchase the solid home from an elderly Chinese man. He was moving in with his daughter and no longer needed the large house.
When Celine came home from the movie, she opened the door and yelled, “Hellloooo! I’m home!” but no one answered. And Nahlie was nowhere to be found.
That was the last thing she remembered from that day.
They found her asleep in the attic, curled up into a ball.
“How’d she pull down the attic stairs?” Her father asked in disbelief. “She can’t even reach the cord!”
Her parents speculated that Celine had watched a scary movie, and upon coming home and finding everyone gone had panicked and jumped to reach the spindly string to pull down the attic stairs. Nahlie had turned up a few blocks away and Celine had gotten in trouble for leaving the gate open. But the mystery always remained why she never remembered what had happened that afternoon.
Thirty years later:
Coming home from work, Celine opened the door to her new house and thought of how may times in her life she had crossed this very thresh hold. It was hard to think of the place as her own, but with her parents relocated to a smaller home, she had inherited the very house she had grown up in. She and her son Wilson gratefully accepted the gift of the big old house. Looking back on all the years spent in cramped apartments, the two-story craftsman felt like a mansion. Celine knew that not having a mortgage meant they could finally travel. Today she would tell Wilson she was taking him to the basketball camp he wanted to go to in California. Their difficult lives were finally easing after so many years of hardship.
Opening the front door, Celine half expected to hear the tapping toenails of her long gone childhood dog Nahlie on the hardwood floors. But all was quiet in the house.
“Helllooo! I’m home!” She called out into the stillness. Wilson must not be home yet from basketball practice, she thought to herself. At 15 years old he was obsessed with sports and spent all his spare time at the gym, coming home only when he needed to eat. Luckily the school was within walking distance and the neighborhood had improved greatly since Celine was a kid.
Coming into the kitchen, she flipped on a light switch. Celine thought she saw something out of the corner of her eye darting towards the stairs. Could there be mice or god forbid, rats, in her house?
“Hello? Wilson?” she called out again, this time cautiously. In her mind she remembered unlocking both bolts on the front door when she came in.
She crept over to the stairway the led to the second story peered into the darkness. From the bottom of the stairs she could make out the attic stair pull down cord faintly swaying.
In a flash she saw everything from the night long ago when her parents had found her asleep in the attic. The stairway opening before her and the feeling of being pulled up the stairs. She remembered the men with masks on their faces and the knife they grabbed from the kitchen to chase the furiously barking dog away. She recalled the way they spoke to each other in a language she couldn’t understand. Their wide suit lapels shiny and wet from the rain that had fallen that late October eve so long ago. The squeaking sound of their wet footsteps on the wooden stairs.
She remembered the smell of cigarettes on his breath as the man bent down and looked into her face with his black eyes. “Go upstairs little girl. Go to the attic and pull the steps up behind you. We wont hurt you. We’ve just come to retrieve something the old man left behind.”
She felt paralyzed by the memory just as she had a child.
And just as suddenly the memory spell was broken when she heard someone coming the front door.
“Hey mom! I’m home! What’s for dinner?”