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Don’t Open the Door
by Richard Dani

“Don’t open the door” was his mother’s mantra. It was a phrase she had pounded into his skull probably from the time he could crawl and even though their house had twenty-nine different types of these wood-hinged panels, he always knew exactly which one she was referring to.

One day that door in his mother’s bedroom, the one between her dresser and her bed, seemed fixed in his mind’s eye and in his imagination, it appeared to be glowing around the edges. Staring at its rusty hinges and flaky white paint, he felt a strange attraction flow through him. A few moments later he had set a drinking glass in the kitchen sink and he had walked across the white linoleum floor toward the basement door that opened to her sleeping quarters.

“She sleeps underground so she’ll be closer to Hell and her lover who rules it,” his friend Jack had said to the guffaws of their lunchroom buddies. He didn’t think it was funny then and it certainly wasn’t funny now.

As he stood on the verge of her domain, his breath came in short wispy gasps and the palms of his hands were sticky with his sweat. Like metal to a magnet, he felt pulled toward her room. In some ways, he wanted to walk away—to forget about the door and whatever secrets it might hold, but he couldn’t resist the urge. It was just stronger than he was.

He gripped the silver plated knob half-expecting and half-hoping that it would be locked. Unfortunately, it turned easily in his hand and the door swung open. He looked down the long flight of wooden steps as his mother greeted him—not in the flesh, but in the scented mixture of her flowery perfume and stale cigarettes. The concrete floor was blanketed in a tight knitted baby blue rug that stretched from one corner to corner the next. On top of it, he could see the foot of her bed and the purple skirt that wrapped around it. He knew he should just turn around, close the door and maybe call a friend. He knew he’d be better off doing something, anything, other than prying around in her room.

Instead, he stepped down and forward and the wood panel creaked under his weight.

It was late afternoon and he his mother wouldn’t be home until at least ten. During these hours, she waited tables at the local diner. She didn’t really like the job and she often complained that the tips were lousy and that her boss seemed a little too free with his hands. He wasn’t sure what she meant by that, but whatever it was, she didn’t like it. The customers were usually short and demanding and they never seemed to like the food and yet, they always came back. They didn’t have a choice. The “Eat and Run” diner was the only restaurant in town and it was one of the few places a single, uneducated mother could work. Some ladies like her “hook” out on the interstate and he had often heard her say that she was one slow week away from doing that herself. That statement was usually followed by a lot of crying and a long stint alone in her bedroom and probably with whatever she kept in the closet.

He took a few more tentative steps down and more of her room came into view. An old couch, covered in a olive green sheet, sat against the left wall only a few feet from the hot water heater and gas furnace. To his right were her tan dresser and the rusty hinged door. Just looking at it caused her command to be replayed in his head.

Not wanting to do it but unable to control himself, he stepped off the bottom rung and onto the light blue rug. His heartbeat slammed in his ears making it hard for him to think. The stale smell of cigarettes was stronger now and it completely overwhelmed the scent of her perfume.

His feet moved silently over the carpet as he marched toward her door.

“Guns,” he thought. “She probably keeps a pistol in there and she just doesn’t want me to hurt myself. That’s all it is. Nothing more. Nothing worse.”

But deep down, he really didn’t believe it. She wouldn’t be down here so long playing with a gun. It just didn’t add up and as his fear built, Jack’s statement seemed more realistic.

“She sleeps underground so she’ll be closer to Hell and her lover who rules it.”

He leaned his ear against the door’s chipped surface and tried to hear what was behind it. He hadn’t expected there to be any sound, but he was greeted with what seemed like a low bass beat. He wasn’t sure what could be creating it, but as he listened more intently he thought he heard people talking and laughing. Their voices seemed far away and muffled as if they were talking through thick layers of fabric. Curiosity replaced some of his fear and he wondered if she had left a radio on. His hand grabbed the metal knob and its temperature surprised him. For some reason, this fixture was hot.

He could hear Jack saying, “It’s a portal to Hell, my friend and if I were you, I’d run.”

He didn’t listen to this advice. He couldn’t. As before, the urge had been too strong and instead of running he swallowed a deep breath and opened the door just a crack. Immediately, a deep red light leaked out with what appeared to be smoke swirling in it. The voices came out too. They seemed louder and clearer and with out a doubt, they were not coming from a radio but from the mouths of living human beings.

“She sleeps underground so she’ll be closer to Hell and her lover who rules it.”

He wanted to slam the door and run, but he had come too far to turn around. Again curiosity had gotten the better of him and he risked a peek inside. Through the red light he saw a room with blackened walls—not like they had been burnt, but as if they were made of mud. He watched a group of people milling around and very few them were wearing clothing. All of them were so skinny their bones were pushing through their skin making them look more like skeletons covered in flesh colored plastic wrap then humans. Some were bumping their private parts together and others looked like they were sleeping. A few people had needles that were filled with a glowing gold fluid that they appeared to be emptying this into different parts of their bodies. While some were injecting their arms, others did their hands and still others pumped the stuff into their feet. One guy appeared to be jamming the needle right into his “Woo-Ha” as Jack called it, but he couldn’t be sure. Because just as his eyes fell on that man, a gray hand shot out from behind the door and it grabbed a handful of his hair.

He let out a scream and pulled away from the door. Still, the hand clung to his head and as the door opened, his captor emerged. It was woman who was about his mother’s age though unlike her, this lady’s skin was dark gray. She had purple sores on her body in all the places that the people were sticking the needles in and he assumed that’s where they had come from. Her skin was pulled back tight on her face as if invisible hands were tugging it. Her hair appeared brittle and it was thin in enough places that he could see her scalp. She was stark naked and her breasts hung like deflated balloons from her chest. The more she emerged from the black room the more he could smell her. She stunk of sweat and urine and though he couldn’t be sure, he was certain she had the air of death around her.

She smiled a black-toothed grin and said, “Hey, little boy. Ya wanna have some fun. First time is for free.” And with that, she shook her chest. He breasts made a wet slapping sound as they moved and he was so repulsed, he found the strength to pull from her grip. In doing so, he lost his balance and fell onto his back. He stared up at the grinning gray death who held a handful of his hair and for a moment he couldn’t move.

She lifted her fist to her face and sniffed the strands that she held. Then, in an almost mothering tone she said, “Don’t open the door. Next time, I might just pull you in and never let you out. You understand, boy?”

He nodded in agreement. His mouth was too dry to speak.

“Good. You don’t want to end up like one of us,” she said and backed into the room. She closed the door behind her and he noticed that she had taken his clump of hair with her. He figured she wanted something to remember him by and he tried not to think about what she might do with it.

That night lying in bed and unable to sleep, he heard his mother go down into the basement. He wondered how often she opened that door and how much time she spent with the people behind it. He was afraid for her, but he didn’t quite know what to do. She was an adult. The one responsible for him and yet, she couldn’t care for herself. At some point she had found this house with that room, and decided that was where she wanted to be. Maybe now, she couldn’t leave this place even if she wanted to—just like he couldn’t stop himself from looking behind the door.

The urge had been too strong.

That made him sad and then he realized something worse. He thought about the interstate and the fact that his mother doesn’t wear a uniform to work anymore.

If you have no questions or fears about your abilities, then you will learn nothing from your mistakes and know nothing about your limitations.

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The following comments are for "Don't Open the Door"
by Richard Dani

Very, very good.

I'd have to say, this is some of the best I've ever seen from you. The best writing, the best characterization, you name it. This story sings.

I like the fact that nothing is explained, that nothing is filed away in nice neat little boxes and made sense of. It feels like some sort of strange, cloudy dream, and when you finish reading you don't so much walk away, as wake up.

If I'm to be honest, however, I'd say the last line needs to go. Yes, it has an impact on the story...but it doesn't belong there. It interrupts the mood of the story.

Otherwise, however, it is wonderful. Bravo, Mr. Pa- er, Mr. Dani.

( Posted by: Beckett Grey [Member] On: June 26, 2002 )

re: very, very good
Hey, thanks for the review of my story and I agree with you--those last two lines just don't belong. I was going to edit them out, but in those situations I think back to an interview with George Lucas where he said that whenever he's at a cross roads he sticks with the original idea. Usually it works out, but now that this story's had a night to breathe, I see how they do not fit as smoothly as I had hoped.

By the way, your prof. Jones newsletter story is awesome. I love that thing. For whatever the reason, that character just flows from you and I think one day he'll bring you great rewards. I would suggest you start each story with a recap though since there's a month between the installments.

And Jessica, thanks as always for the support. It's much apprieciated.


( Posted by: Richard Dani [Member] On: June 27, 2002 )

Loved it!

( Posted by: Pamela [Member] On: June 6, 2004 )

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