By MAYJOR Johnson
Curiosity is the key to nowhere.
door was never meant to be opened. Those words echoed in the mind of Cole
Fox, the new janitor at Ashtrail University. A single door loomed at the end of
a dark hallway for which no key was given, although one hung on a rusty nail by
the door frame. The old key was as rusted as the door itself, an ancient artifact
that contrasted with the digital clocks and card-operated pathways in the
technological marvel of a building. Did the key even open the door, or any door
for that matter? Cole didn’t know, nor did anyone else. It stood, a poisonous
fruit upon a rusted tree, as forbidden as the door itself. A laid-back man in
his 20’s, Cole had to, at least, poke about the issue to satisfy his curiosity.
“What could be behind that door?” he
asked one of his fellow, senior janitors. “A box of goblins? A shamed, failed
magician dying to show his last trick?”
The older gentleman, who appeared seventy, debilitated as a
frail crow with the hair of a wicked Einstein, failed to appreciate his humor.
He quickly turned around, one of his eyes a deep abyss plumed with thick smoke.
The foggy eye made Cole feel like maggots crawled under his skin; gloom tore at
his soul, until the young man could no longer meet that gaze.
“Youth should bite their tongues and
open those holes on the sides of their heads. Scratch that itch too deep, boy,
and you’ll dig into your throat until you choke on your own blood.” With that
the old man left the new custodian to himself.
Cole’s mind wanted to ignore the warning, but his body knew
better, the old man’s deportment abetting the young man’s instincts. He decided
he’d heed his warning at least to keep him from his face. The old crow’s breath
stank like a decaying furnace…or an open grave.
His hand dared not touch the door, even
graze the knob, yet his mind failed to let the matter rest, images of the rusty
door turning gears in a machine, overclocked and overheated, its circuitry set
to crack from the pressure. Every opportunity that arose, away from the
watchful, baleful eyes of the old custodian, of course, he inquired about the
door—its origin, creator, history, looks, weight, composition, type, years,
contents, anything to satisfy his curiosity, to grant him the knowledge to say,
“How boring it is; such a stupid door.” He received nothing about the door. All
he got were the looks one would give to a crazed person, granted to a madman
for running through streets, shouting, “Pickled Penis,” while his manhood flapped
in the breeze. Why did he deserve such treatment, when he only asked about a
stupid, broken door, probably just a forgotten janitor’s closet, older than
Methuselah? His eyes widened.
“That’s it!” he said aloud, nearly
tripping over two sexy college girls, who both gave him that damn, mad-retard
look he received all day, before they scurried away. Fuck ‘em; he had the
answer! It was all a game, a silly joke
crafted to torture the new custodian about a mysterious room that was
actually a janitors’ closet. He gave a half-hearted chuckle, ashamed of his own
stupidity. His mind at ease, he decided to leave the matter of the door alone and
begin setting up a one-stop-recreational-drug shop in the shadow of the science
building that night.
The sun lay buried beneath the
blackness. He carried a few samples in his pocket to chum the lake for the big
catch, and proceeded out to the science building, when he heard a knock. The
rapping could have been made by a child’s fist, yet the dead hallways made it
echo like a hammer. Cole looked around, staring at the large windows. He saw no
sign of anyone. The knock echoed again. He knew all the doors and always
checked each room thoroughly before he locked each door...except one. The knock
came again. He headed toward it, drawn, his
legs propelled for some hint of truth, just a taste to rest his mind from the
mystery. He reached it, and again came a knock so small, so tantalizing, a
bullet in the distance, and a whisper in the ear. He reached to touch the knob,
and his finger tips to his elbow froze. He felt nothing above his elbow, as if
someone had dipped his forearm in liquid nitrogen, or severed it. His composure
crumbled, palms soaked in sweat, icy nails erupting from his skin, air heavier
than a ton, but his mind couldn’t stop him. He had to know, needed to
satisfy his itch, even a little. He moved his head with the grace of a mason
lifting a heavy brick, placed a sweaty ear upon the frame, and stopped the annoying
breathing that impeded his auditory sense. He expected the knock of a hammer,
hand, knife, tentacle, lip, foot…he knew not what. He heard the word, “Open.”
He rushed home that night, driving like
a madman, or like a little child frightened of the bogeyman under the bed or
the monster in his closet. He laughed at himself, wondering how something as
simple as a door and a word could drive him to such terrors. The more he
thought, the funnier it seemed.
The Door who?
The Door that says to open it.
His laugh infected reality and moved into
hysteria, until his eyes met himself in the rearview mirror. Was he becoming
the lunatic those cute students saw? Was he choking on his own blood? “Nonsense,”
he told himself. “Fuck ‘em. I’ve heard it speak. I’ll forget about it tonight.”
A chuckle escaped his lips. The absurdity of it all! Then his eyes widened. “Damn.”
He had forgotten his drug-selling
plans. Then he saw the speedometer, and slowed down. He had been doing 70 in a
Cole got no sleep that night, his eyes
pools of red and veins. Why couldn’t he stop thinking about that damn door?
Something so small occupied his mind, drove his thoughts on an endless wheel,
and he didn’t know why! Video games, porn, calling the girl with the huge tits
he flirted with, reading his English Anthology of 18th Century
Literature, stupid late-night shows, nothing stopped this seed from
overgrowing his thoughts. That stupid, ancient, stinky-ass door strangely
reminded him of the old codger who first informed him of it. Speak of the
“Good afternoon, Mr. Fox. Forget to
comb your hair this morning?” He touched his head; he had forgotten. Damn door.
“Careful, boy. As a man
thinks, so he is.”
“Listen, I mean no disrespect, but I
don’t want anyone talking to me like
they know me, especially when I just met them a few days ago. Let’s keep our
relationship strictly professional.”
The old man
laughed so hard, Cole thought one of the few teeth he had left would fall
out. “Fine, you fool. But everything’s connected—money, business, family,
The man’s rage startled Cole, skin and
soul. That needless rage—this guy’s
not my supervisor, man.”
“And you ain’t my son, man. This
new generation; I just don’t get you...” And yadda-yadda he went, talking to
himself like all crazies do. All walking tombs talked like they knew everything.
A failure who quit his life to clean toilets knew nothing of a poor, young man’s
dream. But the reaction to his dream had as much to do with anything as a
triangle in a square shop. He needed to pay rent, to sell some bags tonight,
and to forget about that door.
Cole rushed through his work, half
cleaning everything, his thoughts a brick of ice, a rusted door at its center.
Three hours before quitting time, he sat in a bathroom, rocking back and forth,
his mind snared in a Rubik’s Cube of madness. The door, the door, THE
DOOR! What did it keep in? Incomprehensible terror had seized him when he last
faced it, yet his mind remained as tangled as a thief in barbed wire, grasping
for knowledge he knew he should refuse, yet couldn’t help but acquire.
An evil spirit must be there, ready to torture whatever fool wandered within,
for eternity. Or maybe someone was trapped—a victim chained and beaten daily by
the faculty for pure amusement, who remained as such because everyone lacked
the courage to open a door? Or perhaps a monster crouched there, an unspeakable
horror with claws, drooling fangs, and an appetite for the flesh of idiots.
He jumped when he heard it, even though
he heard the echo of an echo on the other side of the building. No! It
contained gold—mountains of gold bars hidden by the custodians using this
horror show shit.
He stood, wiped the tears building in
his eyes, tears blooming from his own disappointment in himself. “This shit is
stupid. I’ve had it.” His arm smashed against the bathroom door, slamming the
handle against the wall.
He walked down the hallway, his legs
pumped with lava, his chest heaving, arms wrecking balls.
It was so loud now…too loud. Curiosity
became fear, and fear became anger...
Anger became hate. He’d knock back at
that door all right, knock the fucker down. This door was nothing, absolutely
nothing—a speck of grass, a dumb baby, a rotten twig—so he was going to chop
the fucker down, make this nothing bleed.
He faced the Door.
It was still as rusted and old as before. The fluorescent lights above dimmed, and
the only warmth he felt remained in his heart, yet he gave no notice.
“Knock, knock, knock!” he
screamed. His voice echoed through dead hallways, like the knocks.
“Who’s there, motherfucker?!”
He hated it with everything in him. He
kicked the metal door several times until he heard something crack. Was it the
door, or his foot? Who cared? It must come down, or open. He snatched the key
from the rusty nail, breaking the ring, cutting his hand. Red filled the white
meat, flooded down his arm as the key entered the hole, turned, and clicked.
One final kick, and then he saw it.
He heard nothing but silence, felt nothing—no breathing, no heartbeat, no more
warmth, no more hope—a room blacker than the deepest trench, with...that
staring at him. His care for the world, for all his little dreams, left. He
just wanted to run, to intimidate it, to scream for his life…or to pray. But he
couldn’t. It was absolutely nothing, and absolutely everything. Go figure.
“I told you everything’s connected,
didn’t I?” said that old janitor’s voice from behind. He wanted to reflect and
react, but had lost the ability. His thoughts simply ceased.
A new day awoke Ashtrail University.
The eighth bell of the day rang in the science building. The old janitor sat in
the office where all the custodians congregated, alone, scanning a newspaper
with his legs crossed, the headline reading, “New Drug Circulated around High
Schools and Universities. Police Chief Armando Addresses Concerns.” Another
custodian in a green jumpsuit, slightly younger than his coworker, entered.
“Anything new, Aker?” said the man
standing. Aker folded his paper.
“Some new, some not. That kid who came
in this week’s gone.”
“Gone? Where’d he go?”
“Where all the young-guns we hired go:
through the Door.”
“Why does this damn generation think
they got nine lives like a cat? They all turn eighteen and still wanna play
cowboys and Indians with the world. But you know it wasn’t all his fault, Aker;
someone needs to get in there and get that evil thing outta that room. I’ve
been saying for years—”
“Aw, shut up, Mike. No one in their
right mind’s taking that mirror out of there, not since that crazy-ass teacher
killed his class before killing himself. Some say his ghost still haunts the
mirror, and will drag your soul to hell before it’s time. Others say the only
thing hauntin’ the mirror is coincidences of crazy. Either one’s fine with me, ‘cause
I ain’t never cleaned that room, and ain’t never gunna.”
Mike slammed himself into a seat.
“Well, next time the police come snoopin’ around here, I’m gunna tell ‘em your black-ass did it.”
“You ain’t gunna say shit.”
“Yeah, yeah. Hey, what do you think
they see in it, anyway?”
“Now don’t you start, Mike. Don’t you
go looking in that damn thing. Leave that ‘poking-your-hands-in-the-cookie-jar’
shit to the young and dumb.” Aker resumed reading the paper. Mike stood.
“Well, guess I’ll go tell Bernard. We’ll
need someone new to replace that kid sooner or later, and with the work we’ll
have to do without him, I’d prefer sooner.”
“Tell him to hire someone with some
sense this time. Kids these days...” Mike left the room, and left a smiling
Aker savoring the obituaries. If he had stayed a moment longer, he might have
heard a young man’s scream behind the newspaper, and if he dared to look over
it, seen Cole’s twisted face cringing behind the old janitor’s misty eye.
Mayjor E. Johnson, email@example.com, of
Cape Charles, VA ,
who wrote BP #71’s “The Door” (+ BP #68’s “The Shadow Boxing Club” and BP #61’s
“Snail Mail”) formerly studied English, with a secondary focus on teaching.
He’s currently seeking an Associate’s in information systems technology.
Hobbies include reading horror and military novels, writing short stories and
poetry, and playing video games. He enjoys hanging with his tough, older sister
and genius, younger brother.