The Door in the Wall
Looking back, I often wonder how long it would have taken for them to find us; to make contact. I wonder how long it would have taken for the link between our world and theirs to be broken - for it was bound to happen, sooner or later; and what would have happened if I hadn’t been the one to break them - would things be the same. Of course I already know the answer to that question, though it passes the time on a rainy day to think of the possibilities, the reasons behind how it all came about. And then as my thoughts drift, unedited, naturally the question is prodded; retrieved from the place where my heart and mind meet, and I am again faced with the most puzzling question of all, the one to this day, years later, I still spend restless nights trying to answer: Why had it been me?
It all started the summer we moved to Albany - to the house in the woods; surrounded by trees and draped in a shroud of isolation that threatened to suffocate each of its inhabitants. I had gone down to the basement, where much of the previous owner’s things had been left behind.
That’s where I found the door.
It was locked shut, the basement I mean, and it was weeks after we had moved in that we found the key. Mom said it was old and dusty down there, and we hadn’t a need for it, but I was curious. The door to the basement was towards the back of the house, tucked under the stairs and out of the way. This location made it easy to slip in and out without being noticed, and when the door below had been found, that aspect had been of vital importance.
Everyone was out. They had taken a trip to the town 10 miles away that I graciously declined to attend; I liked being alone. The house was big and each step sent a hollow echo throughout the halls, and the only sounds to enter being the musical tinks of birds chirping and the gurgling of the stream that crawled along the backyard provided a comforting haven to spend a few hours alone in.
Exploring the house’s many spare rooms, I found in them strange treasures and artifacts abandoned and forgotten, covered with white sheets and left to be overcome with dust. After investigating a few old trinkets and attempting to pry open several locked chests but to no avail, I eventually retired downstairs and left the rest of the unknown relics to be examined another day.
Crossing into the broad kitchen, I leaned over the marble counter and watched the sun dance across the wooden floor as it came in through the glass window. While admiring the shadows and beams of light as they coincided gracefully along the floor, ever slowly climbing up the legs of the chairs and spreading like tree branches on the wall behind, I noticed the ring of keys left next to the toolbox on the desk behind the table. I straightened and walked round the counter to the desk, picking up the keys and sifting through them impatiently. They all looked the same,
and I couldn’t remember what any of them were for. I searched for any sort of sign or shape that might spark a memory as to where any would lead, but could find none.
Then I remembered the basement. The key I remembered was a dark bronze color, and had teeth that were unusually smooth for a key. It had reminded me of one I saw in a book about Celtic myths. Hastily I separated each key until I found it. I raised it to eye level to confirm it was the one, and once I was I certain I proceeded to the back of the house, clutching the key in my hand so as not to lose it.
Reaching the back of the staircase, I stopped short of the door that lay within, noting how easily it merged with the rest of the wall, completely enveloped in darkness. It was as if it weren’t there at all.
If it weren’t for the light that reflected off the knob, one might not be able to find it. Reaching out and clasping the knob in one hand, I took the basement key and tentatively stuck it in the keyhole. It didn’t open at first, and took a bit of shaking and jamming until it finally gave with a sharp snap! Shoving the keys into my pocket I opened the door, clicking on the flashlight I had grabbed on the way.
Even with the thick beam of light pointing down the steep wooden stairs, not much was illuminated, and I thanked the heavens that there was at least a railing I could grab onto, before descending into the pit.
The steps groaned and whined like a dog deprived and adrift, and I took each one slowly and one at a time. I could hear the hollow trickling of water dripping from the pipes above onto the floor, creating a rhythmic but desolate beat. Several times I feared the harsh creaking of the stairs would lead to the collapse of them beneath me, but I made it to the bottom without any such accident.
Light from a small window that sat elevated on the west wall produced a ray of white light that stretched across the floor. A block of light matching the rectangular shape of the window was painted along a door that sat directly in the middle of the immediate wall. The door was abnormally small, wooden and arch-like, with a small and perfectly round black knob to the right. It seemed better suited for a house full of elves rather than in a basement in the woods of New York.
But it wasn’t the curious size of the entry that caught my eye at first, but the way in which it was attached to the wall. A stone archway no more than an inch deep surrounded the door, giving it the illusion that it was pushed into the wall. But in fact it wasn’t an illusion at all; the door, the wall around it cracked and having the look of being stretched, was indeed within the wall, as if it had been built there, long ago, and perhaps just recovered. For surely the door would not have been built in that position on purpose. It was extremely intriguing, and it was hard to tear my eyes away, but I had to explore the rest of the uncharted land.
Boxes were stacked, one on top of the other, large and filled to the brim with a clutter of miscellaneous items. Christmas lights tangled and cracked spilled out the edges, rolls of paper and dusty jewelry boxes no longer wanted but once treasured also peeked out between folds. I walked to the edge of the stairs, where stacks of paper nearly a foot high were tied together with a string. I bent down to examine its contents, but they were sealed shut with a wax of some sort, and each was so thick and tightly compressed I could not separate any to even attempt to read.
An old wooden radio stood next to the papers, bulky and square, coming to an arched point at the top, with a large black knob directly in the middle and a dial board just above. The radio was a dark brown wood, with four glass windows along the arch. Two other knobs were placed in the bottom corners, though not as large as the center one. It seemed to not have been in use since at least the 1920s, and I wondered to whom it had once belonged.
Traveling to the back of the room, I discovered that it was not at all deep, and ended only about a foot or so after the staircase’s start. The space there was bare, as was the same on the other side. Towards the front however, in the corner, a large and very thick rug leaned against the wall, bound in thick rope. The rug was a very deep forest green, with a wide and dark blue border framing its edges. Words were sewn all along the perimeter, strange it their language, looping and curving; I could not read them, and they soon disappeared behind the rug’s fold. I stared hard at the rug, and slowly raised my arm. I could see another grouping of the words I had seen before peeking from behind the corner, and was about to peel back the fabric to reveal them, when-
The front door slammed. Footsteps shuffled and clomped noisily above, shaking the ceiling and causing dust to fall. Voices drifted through the walls, down to me, and I knew my seclusion had come to an end. Taking hold of the railing, I mounted the steps and flicked on the flashlight, taking one last look back at the rug, and then the door. Turning, I began to climb, but I hadn’t yet gone halfway when again I turned, my eyes on the door.
It could have ended there. I could have turned around, walked up the stairs, and returned to my life, never thinking ever again about the door. But of course that didn’t happen, or I wouldn’t be telling you this. No, I had to stay, and stare, and think. I had to wonder and wanted to know. I still wonder whether me staying was the mistake, or maybe the exact opposite. But whatever it was, it ultimately led me to where I am today and given the chance, I’m not sure I would go back and change it, mostly because the power to change it wasn’t in my hands. And so I got what I wanted; all the adventure, excitement, and danger I always so fervently longed for as I read my books and stories, I got, and looking back, I really shouldn’t be surprised.
I stood there on the steps, teetering on the edge, so close to a universe unlike anything I could ever imagine, unlike anything any book or inch of my imagination could show me, but so unaware. Again my name was called, and I knew I couldn’t be there, so I turned and hastily raced up the steps, closing the basement door behind me.
Weeks passed without any visits to the basement, but all the while my mind was heavily infected with thoughts of the door. I had tried prodding my mother to go down into the basement, telling her I was curious to see it for the first time, but was rejected as it was, according to her, a waste of time to see a wasted space. Trying to go along with day-to-day life, scarcely any opportunities to see the door aroused regardless, and those that did, I found myself making excuses to detain. Throughout the time I was away from the door and its mysteries, thoughts, questions, and ideas buzzed inside me looking for answers, like flies in a jar trying desperately to get out.
How could I get the door open? If I could, would I go through? How did it get there? What did this house’s previous owners know about the door, or what didn’t they know? All these and more clouded my mind day and night, keeping me awake and not quite all there. I felt somehow detached from my own world, pining to be apart of whatever lay beyond that door-if anything.
Finally, the day came where I could not put it off any longer. We were planning to go into the city - visit museums and whatever attractions that normally drew people in. It was supposed to be an all day event, and we would not return till long after the sun had gone down. We were heading out, everything packed and jackets on, when I found myself, suddenly and for reasons unknown, feigning illness. I’m not quite sure, looking back, whether or not I myself knew I was faking it, though I know my head was spinning at the time-but with sickness or with thoughts is indeed questionable.
I told them I felt rather poorly, and I’d better go have a lie down. It did not take much; I convinced them - not enough for them to stay, but just enough for them to leave. A house to myself would help heal whatever ailments I had, according to them, and I did not protest. And so they left, and I was alone, free to do whatever it was I needed to do. All I that was left was to find the will to do it. It was nearly two hours after they had left, when I took the ring of keys from their shelf and made my way to the basement door.
I found the key easily and stuck it in the hole, but didn’t yet open it. What was so different about this time? I still did not have the key to the door below, and staring at it as I had previously done would not make it open, but only deepen my intrigue and wistful hope to see what was on the other side. Though I knew all this to be true, I was still uneasy, anxious, yet exhilarated all at the same time to see the door. And so, without another thought to change my mind or restrain me any longer, I twisted the key and opened the door, purposefully making my way down the jagged and uneven steps to the bottom.
I can’t quite say how long I stood there, again staring and thinking, or how long I paced through that room, staring and thinking. All I know is by the time I finally decided to turn back, angry at myself for wasting another perfect chance to decipher whatever clues I could have found leading to the door, the light that came in through the single window was orange and full of shadows. What I didn’t know was that I would get another chance, one that would bring me so much closer, but put me in so much danger.
When I turned to go back, it was not one of my thoughts that stopped me, but a noise. It was a rattling sound, like a box full of pins and other small items being shook. The noise startled me so, that my shoulders and arms shot up and a shiver ran through me, and I dropped the keys. I spun quickly on my heels, my breath caught in my throat and my eyes wide in the direction of the sound. It wasn’t a particularly alarming sound, but the fact that it had happened at all and from where was enough to send a shock through my nerves. I had eyes for the small door alone, and nothing else. I knew the rattling had come from behind it-that was indistinguishable - but I watched it then, waiting for something more to happen; what that was exactly I don’t know, but perhaps it was an excuse I told myself so I could wait for my hammering pulse to calm down. I felt frigid, rooted to the spot, and was afraid to stay, yet far from willing to peel my eyes away.
I clasped my right hand together, realizing then the keys were not in my hand. I turned around to where they had dropped, and saw them lying there, but I did not pick them up.
This is the moment when I knew it had to be me - what else could explain it? Fate had somehow decided to enter my life, and laid itself there on the ground, in the form of brass key.
When the keys had dropped from my hand, they fell in a most peculiar arrangement, with all but one pushed together on one side. This key was very small, about the size of one that would be used on a small lock on a book or journal; too small to be seen cluttered among keys more than twice its size. I knelt to the ground and picked it up between two fingers, and placed it in my hand. It was the color of charcoal, and made out of a surprisingly thick material in proportion to its size, and was not the kind of key that could ever be used on any normal sized door. I looked towards the door in front of me, and back to the key in my hand, standing. Hesitantly I took the three steps it took to fill the space between me and the door. Reaching towards the diminutive knob, the key still in between my fingers, I placed it inside the keyhole, and watched as it fit in perfectly. I placed my shaking hand on the knob, my hand enveloping it entirely and, with bated breath, opened the door.
Time was irrelevant as I crouched there, half inside one world, half in another. Words alone cannot paint the picture of what I saw, and to say it was amazing, stunning, and utterly miraculous would not even begin to do it justice. I was entranced as I gazed at the sights around me, filling my cup ten times over and trying in vain to drink it all in. I didn’t want to leave, yet I knew I had to go; I had to record what I was seeing, and let my emotions explode to the only thing that would listen - paper. It was as painful as peeling off a band-aid to tear myself away from the colors of that world, but I had to, and so I did. I took the key out of its bed and was closing the door, turning hastily at the same time to sprint up the stairs, when a voice from within stopped me - a breath of wind passing through the wall between worlds, light as a feather, and heavy on my heart-
My muscles locked and I immediately froze, my heart thumping so hard it hurt the inside of my chest. Heat rapidly rose to my face and I felt myself breaking into a cold sweat, petrified to move. Moving my eyes slowly to peer from my peripherals, I gradually turned my head round to find small hand in between the door and the wall, stopping it from closing. The hand was smooth and round, and its fingers curled slightly as it grasped the wood of the door, pulling it open with a soft creak, though the door had no hinges.
The figure immerged from inside, and darkness suddenly replaced the colors I had just seen from within, and shadows from the window covered the form and its face. But I didn’t need light to see that it stood no higher than the door from which it had come. It was a moment before it then took a step forward, into the light, where its features were revealed.
We stood there then, staring at each other, and it seemed like everything else had faded away, leaving us the only two left. Its eyes were strange in the way they pierced my own, intent in their gaze yet carrying something gentle and pensive I knew mirrored my own curiosity.
In my haste I found myself closer to the stairs and farther from the door, where the figure stood, with a large gap between us. It took a tentative step forward, but grew more purposeful as it closed the space between us, and with each step I watched in awe as it slowly grew, until it was less than a foot in front of me and matched my own height. Eyes, nose, and mouth now level, we again watched each other, the sound of our even breathing being the only thing heard. Without a sound it raised its arm, pointing up the stairs, towards the thin shaft of light that poured from the still open basement door. I turned, and hesitantly mounted the first step, and then the second, watching out of the corner of my eye as it followed.
As I stepped into the hall, I saw that the creature continued to follow me, neither moving closer nor falling behind. I began to graze into each room, leading it as it still followed, but keeping a careful distance away. As we moved through the house, I saw that it did not look upon its inhabitants with shock, but rather with awe. It did not touch, but stared, and stared, and I felt myself feeling a sort of connection to the being, though I knew we were worlds apart.
We eventually made it back to where the exodus began, with the creature following me, but now standing the smallest bit closer. I remember smiling at it, and though it did not smile back, I knew that it understood what I was saying and, somehow, I felt it saying the same thing.
I put my hand on the banister of the staircase that shrouded where we stood, inhaling a breath I never properly got to let out, for it was interrupted by a terrible choking noise that can only be described as a gasp. I spun around, to find the form’s bottomless eyes wide, filled with an emotion all that live and feel can recognize and relate: terror. Its arm stood erect, pointing directly forward as its index finger jutted out to indicate it wanted the door closed. Quickly I slid to the basement door and closed it shut, clutching the knob. I was anxious for the choking noise to stop, and looked to the creature for signs of approval at the now closed door, but found none. Its eyes were still wide with fear and its mouth still retained its contorted shape, while its arm still thrust forward, pointing towards the basement.
That’s when I realized I had closed the wrong door.
At first I hesitated, certain I had indeed shut the door below. But the creature’s rigid form convinced me otherwise. Throwing open the basement door I hurriedly rushed down the steps, and though it made no sound, I knew the creature followed. My foot hadn’t yet touched the ground when I stopped, my hand slipping of the railing. Now I understood the look of horror that drowned the creature’s face, and beneath the drowning of sound to my ears and the numbness of my hands, I managed to make out one coherent thought;
What had I done?
Maybe all this was a mistake.
Or maybe - just maybe - I was simply the right person, in the right place, at the wrong time.
Reihaneh on 1 June, 2020
Olivia on 17 February, 2017
You are such a spectacular writer. I read your OZ story as well and have been hooked ever since. I love your vivid descriptions and subtle element of mystery. Please keep writing. You truly have an amazing gift. DON'T STOP WRITING!!!!!!!!!!
BallerinaRose on 31 May, 2015I am dying of the cliff hanger!!!!! Please more!!!!!!