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The Door to Nowhere: Part 2

 The Door to Nowhere: Part 2
By Christopher Waltz

I didn’t open the door that night. I couldn’t.
I wanted nothing more than to find the right key on the ring my boss had given me and fling the door open to find my son waiting for me on the other side, but in the back of my mind, I knew that wasn’t possible. My son had been dead for months, and after a few short moments of deep contemplation, I reminded myself of that. I reminded myself that there was no way I had heard Colton’s voice, because he was dead.
A piece of information I should also divulge is that a week before hearing the scratching at the door and the small, scared voice saying, “Daddy?” I had started seeing a therapist. Not because I was having hard time believing Colton had died, but because I had started having thoughts of ending my own suffering. Judge all you want, but my wife had left me, I’d lost my job, and my son had been mowed down by a reckless driver while playing on the monkey bars at his elementary school. It was a lot to deal with, and I wasn’t dealing the way a sane person should.
I called my therapist as soon as I got home, waking her from sleep, something any normal person would be doing after midnight, and at first, I insisted she see me right then. I’d asked her drive all the way across town in the middle of the night, and also like any normal person, she had told me no. She did, however, agree to clear her morning schedule so I could stop by before going back to work at the coffee house. Being completely honest, I doubt I would have gone back to work had she not seen me.
After a detailed description of what I thought I had heard, Danielle—a name that had reminded me far too much of my own soon-to-be ex-wife’s name—told me she thought I should deal with my delusions head on. She suggested I go into work and go about my day as normal. “If you let this one episode get to you, you’ll never come back from it,” she had said. “Face it, and if it happens again, remind yourself that your son is gone, and that even though it’s tough, you’re going to be okay.”
It was harsh, but I had asked her to be harsh with me. I was nothing if not stubborn, and as of right then, Danielle was the only constant normalcy I had in my life.
I took her advice and drove into work as soon as I left her office, getting to the coffee shop two hours earlier than I needed to. Of course, it being Saturday, the high schooler working his shift asked if he could have the afternoon off as soon as I had walked through the door. The ever-growing grump in me wanted to tell him no, but it was a gloomy day, and hardly anyone had come into the shop an hour later. I told Zeke he could leave, and he was out the door almost before the words had left my mouth.
It was then I realized I would be spending the next eight hours at the coffee shop alone.
I kept myself busy at first, washing dishes and cleaning until there were no more dishes to wash and no surface left unwiped. The place was spotless, and my hands were chapped from the water, and the soap, and the chemicals I had been using for the past two hours nonstop. With nothing else to do, I rummaged through the magazine rack at the end of the counter until I found a three-month-old copy of Rolling Stone and began reading an ill-written review of the latest pop-posing-as-indie albums to hit the shelves. My brain was liable to start dribbling out my ears within an hour, but at least my mind was focused on something other than the door behind table seven.
And then I heard it: the same faint scratching I had heard as I passed by the door on my way out of the coffee shop the night before. I tried to ignore it, but it was only when the lone customer glanced up from her cappuccino and said, “I think you’ve got a rat,” that I realized the sound wasn’t in my imagination.
“Seems that way,” I said coldly, trying to keep my focus on the magazine, though it was now no use.
Not too long after, the customer stood from her table—table four—and exited the shop with some sort of cordial farewell I wasn’t paying attention to. Without thinking, I practically leapt over the counter and locked the door behind her, flipping the yellow and black OPEN FOR CAFFEINE sign over so that it now read GET YOUR FIX SOMEWHERE ELSE.
I stood silently, waiting to hear the scratching again, but the room remained quiet for the next couple of minutes.
“Come on, Colton,” I whispered under my breath, not even realizing how crazy I would have sounded to anyone who knew my situation. I was begging my dead son to scratch at a door that, if opened, would most likely lead straight into a brick wall.
Silence. And then…
Scratch, scratch, scratch.
I quickly slid table seven out from against the wall and dropped to the floor, pressing my ear against the oak door and listening for another scratch. It took only a moment before I heard it again, weaker than the night before, but still there.
“Colton?” I asked, my voice cracking as I realized I had started to cry.
“Daddy?” he whispered from the other side of the door. “Daddy, are you there?”
“I’m here, baby! I’m here. Where are you?”
Colton was silent at first, then answered, “I’m behind the door. Can you open the door, Daddy?”
Without hesitation, I pulled the keys from my back pocket and fumbled through them, trying to find one I thought might fit the door. The front door key wouldn’t fit, this I knew, and it was unlikely the key to the bathroom would fit either. There was a key to unlock the incinerator in the alley behind the shop, a key to the owner’s apartment upstairs, and a small, brass key she hadn’t told me about. It only made sense the brass key would open the door, and when I slid it into the lock, I waited apprehensively before turning it.
What would I do if it didn’t fit? Could I justify breaking the lock? Could I risk losing my job by explicitly breaking one of the owner’s three rules she had given me before leaving me in charge of her business?
“Come on, Daddy!” Colton giggled in the way only he could giggle. I’d heard the same on a thousand times, and it was all the assurance I needed that no matter what kind of consequences I might face, I had to open the door. I had to see my son, even if I would only be seeing some kind of hallucination of him, brought on by my psyche finally breaking. If I was going insane, there would be no better way to go than by getting to see Colton. I was at peace with it.
I flung the door open to reveal—to my relief? My surprise? I didn’t know—Colton standing on the other side, clad in his favorite pajamas and standing in what could only be described as an exact replica of his bedroom back at our house. His red hair hung in front of his eyes, but as the light from inside the coffee shop filled his room, he brushed the hair away and giggled again.
It was him. It was really him.
I embraced him in the tightest hug I had ever given, and once I finally let go, Colton stared up at me and asked, “Where have you been?”
I had no idea how to answer the question. How could I tell my nine-year-old son that I hadn’t gone anywhere, but that he had. How could I tell him he hadn’t seen me in months because he had died?
“Daddy’s been at work,” I said quietly, and it seemed to be a good enough answer for him.
“Where’s Mommy?”
I swallowed hard and told him truthfully, “Mommy is staying with her family in New Mexico for a while.”
“Go get her!” Colton exclaimed happily, and I realized Dana, as much as she currently hated me, would want to hear about this. She would be ecstatic to have her son back, and it might be a strange enough miracle to bring our broken family back together.
I picked Colton up from the floor and walked back towards the open doorway, through which I could see the coffee shop perfectly, though the two of us were still standing in Colton’s bedroom. Before walking through the door, Colton shook his head at me.
“Leave me here, Daddy,” he said. “Go get Mommy, and bring her back to me. Leave me here.”
It killed me, but I slowly lowered myself to a squatting position and placed Colton back on the floor of his room. He immediately dove onto his bed and began playing with his favorite action figures—the ones his mother and I had buried with him months ago.
“You’ll be here when I come back?” I asked through more tears, to which Colton nodded enthusiastically.
Quickly and without hesitation, I waltzed through the open door and closed it, turning the key and locking Colton inside his room. It felt harsh, but the last thing I wanted was for him to leave while I tried to get ahold of Dana to tell her the news. It hadn’t even dawned on me how I would convince her Colton was still alive, but I decided I would worry about it when the time came.
On the counter, my cell phone began to ring, and I jogged across the shop with a spring in my step and a grin like no other spread across my face. Nothing could get me down now.
“Hello?” I asked, not bothering to check the caller ID before answering.
“Robert,” the voice of my wife’s mother echoed through my ear. She was a smoker, and her voice was normally hoarse, but something about it was different, like she’d been yelling for hours and hours. Like she’d been screaming…
“There’s no easy way to tell you this, so I’ll just say it: Dana’s dead. She killed herself last night.”

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