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The Door to Nowhere: Part 1


By Christopher Waltz

It’s August 23rd, and I think I may be losing my mind.
You see, times have been tough for me, just like times have been tough for most other people. I’m a middle-class white guy with a college education, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have it better than most other people I know up until about four months ago. Was it the best life in the world, well, now that I’m looking back on it, yeah, it probably was.
I taught middle school English in the city, and even though the hours were almost as awful as the pay (Shove it with your “But you get summers off” nonsense, by the way.), I actually felt like I was making a difference in some of the kids’ lives. The school is in a poor area, and a lot of the kids don’t have a positive role model, especially a male one.
I also had the advantage of teaching in the same building as my wife, meaning we got to do things most married couples don’t, like have lunch together and make out in the staff bathroom during our free periods. Don’t judge; not everyone marries someone they feel that kind of passion towards nine years later.
We had everything most people would consider a necessity for the American Dream: steady, rewarding jobs, a little bit of money in savings, a house… and a kid.
But on April 15th, we lost one of those things, effectively dumping a gallon of black tar on our perfect, little Bob Ross painting of a life. In the instant our eight-year-old son was hit by an out-of-control car while playing at recess—literally across the parking lot from where my wife and I were teaching English and Science—we lost everything. Even if we didn’t know it at the time, Colton’s death had created a spider web crack in everything we thought would never change. And if losing a child wasn’t terrible enough, that crack spread throughout every aspect of our lives until we could no longer stand to look at each other, let alone live together.
Dana moved out of our house within a month. Two weeks after that, I still hadn’t returned to work, and as sympathetic as my employers were, I was starting to risk losing my job. After all, there were only three weeks left in the school year, and my allotted bereavement period had run its course.
Eventually, the principal called to ask if I planned on returning for the final week of school. She tried to sound caring on the phone, but when she told me, “You have to try to get your life back to normal,” I told her to fuck off and hung up the phone. The next phone call I received was from the superintendent, who promptly extended his condolences before asking me to pen a letter of resignation. I did it, because what the hell else was I supposed to do?
Dana also resigned, though less dramatically than I had, and when I called her mother to check on her, I was told she had packed her things and hopped a plane to New Mexico. She had some extended family—a great aunt who used to buy her expensive dolls or something—and she was going to be staying there until further notice. Her mother also told me I could be expecting divorce papers in the mail before the end of June.
If you haven’t guess by this point, I’d more than started a quick decent into depression. My nights were filled with binge-drinking and wallowing in self-pity, while my days were filled with desperately trying to figure out how to keep from going bankrupt and losing my wife forever. Sleep wasn’t really on the agenda, but I managed to catch a few hours every couple of days.
Getting to the point of things (I’m a little heavy on my exposition, I know.), I eventually applied for and was able to act normal long enough to be offered a part-time job at a local coffee house. The pay was somehow worse than what I’d been making as a teacher, but if I stuck around long enough to make it to full-time, I might have been able to scrape together enough money to not lose the house, you know, at least until the hospital bills started coming in. It still boggles my mind how a hospital can basically send you a letter saying, “Sorry your son died, but you owe us tens of thousands of dollars, so you should probably do something about that before we start sending collections agencies to your door. Also, yes, we really are charging you for the acetaminophen you took while waiting to hear the bad news.”
After two weeks of working at the coffee shop, the owner approached me to tell me she had to go out of town to deal with a “family thing,” and that I would be in charge. I had no idea how this would work since I had barely learned how to use the cash register, but there was nothing she could do, and the only other employees were local high school students who couldn’t be trusted with a key to the building. Also, for the time she was gone, the owner promised to double my pay and promote me to full-time if everything went well.
Of course, I told her I would do it; I needed the money and knew all too well what it meant to suddenly have a “family thing” come up.
Before she left, the owner went over three basic rules of the shop with me: “Don’t ever leave the espresso machine on overnight. If it burns up, I can’t afford a new one. Make sure you have the keys with you when you leave, because if you don’t, there isn’t a spare. And never unlock the old, oak door behind table seven. No matter what.”
The last rule struck me as odd, because though there was an old, oak door behind table seven, the wall it was attached to faced the alley between the coffee shop and the comic book store next door, and there was no door into the coffee shop in that alley. To me, this meant the door, as strange as it seemed, didn’t actually go all the way through and was just there for decoration. That, or the door had gone all the way through at one time, but had been bricked over on the outside at some point in time.
Odd or not odd, I accepted her rules, and she was on her way, leaving me to close up shop all by myself less than twenty minutes after accepting her proposal. Whatever her “family thing” was, it must have been urgent, though her demeanor didn’t show it.
The rest of the day went by without incident, and by the time the shop closed at ten, the high school workers had already gone home—labor laws—and I was all alone. I preferred to work alone on the first night, as I knew I could take my time and get everything right without an impatient sixteen-year-old looking over my shoulder, eager to get home and cram four hours of homework into thirty minutes. And I did take my time, cleaning the coffee shop (an admittedly therapeutic experience) for over an hour, not realizing it was after eleven until I finished the dishes and wiped the counters.
I made my way to the front door, not realizing I had left the set of keys the owner had given me on top of the pastry case until I had almost locked them inside. I would have felt like a complete moron if I’d broken the owner’s number one rule the first night she left me in charge of the place. However, I would have chosen looking like a moron over what ended up happening any day.
As I jogged the length of the café, I stopped in my tracks before reaching the pastry case. I couldn’t be completely sure, but I could have sworn I’d heard a noise coming from the other side of the old, oak door behind table seven. Shaking it off, I snagged the keys and power-walked towards the front door again—the way you do when you’re a kid and have to make it to the top of the stairs in the dark, only all the lights in the shop were still on, and I was a grown man.
I stopped again, however, as I heard the scratching again, faint, but definite.
The scratching continued, and I couldn’t help but approach the door I knew for a fact led to nowhere. As I pulled table seven away from the wall and crouched next to the door, the scratching stopped.
“Hello?” I asked, not completely sure why I was talking, essentially, to a door hanging against a solid brick wall.
However, much to my shock—maybe to my horror—whatever had been making the scratching noises replied. And though the voice was weak and sounded miles away, there was no mistaking who it belonged to.
“Daddy?” it said.

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