The Red Door
When the brain scuttled into the room, it came dressed as a meatloaf on crab legs.
Charlie threw a nervous glance at Fred. It would be unseemly if Fred ate the first walking brain known to man, no matter how tasty it might look and smell. But, now that he thought about it, when was the last time he'd seen meatloaf and crab legs paired on a menu? Perhaps never. Fred's thoughts appeared to be following a similar trail. Though he cocked an ear and twitched his tail in response to Charlie's glance, he did not bother to raise his head from his paws.
"I'll feed you in a little bit," Charlie said. Fred closed his eyes.
Charlie studied the approaching brain, and wondered how it managed to click its claws so loudly over the carpeted floor? Was something crunchy buried in the carpeting? A bag of potato chips, perhaps? Whatever, the noise was unnatural, and Charlie could barely hear the rush of melting ice caps because of it.
". . . the congressman has said repeatedly that he believes global warming to be 'a hoax,'" squawked the television.
Charlie shook his head. A hoax? Seriously? What would be the point?
"I hear people say, 'We're changing the planet,' and I feel sorry for them. The idea that our actions could bend God's global creations to our will is arrogance in its highest form."
Charlie sighed. The man represented a dust bowl state.
New images replaced the congressman—open water, a brilliant sun, and penguins having trouble navigating a narrow beam of ice. Charlie flung a corn chip at the screen. Why did the media reduce every story to a Disney plot?
"You think too much," said the brain.
Fred, crunching the discarded corn chip, nodded in agreement.
Charlie dragged deeply off a cigarette and changed the channel.
You think too much.
A game show. He didn't hate all game shows. Ones that asked interesting questions and revealed new trivia were okay. He'd play along from time to time and was pleased to know that he'd be a millionaire—twice even—if he'd occupied the contestant seat. But this show was shit—you could be Joe Ordinary, an unsuccessful dope with the intelligence of a squirrel, and be on equal footing with Richard Feynman. What was the point? He changed the channel.
You think too much.
Maybe he did. And maybe he wished that his brain would go for a stroll without him every so often. What would his brain dress as if it were on its own? Would it look like Mr. Meatloaf here? Or . . . the image that presented itself looked like a Hell's Angel riding a big wheel. Interesting.
"So," said the brain. "Tell me about the red door."
The red door. A padded, red vinyl door actually. Charlie glanced at it, and, as always, his eyes traced the pattern of rivets that formed a collapsing spiral. The mysterious red door.
"What about it?" he asked.
"Well, it's an unusual door," said the brain. "And that spiral is hypnotic." The brain waited. Charlie took a drag of his cigarette. "Okay then, tell me where you got it."
"It showed up one day," Charlie said.
"Showed up? Like someone left it on your doorstep?"
"No. One day that section of the wall was drywall and a drawing from an old girlfriend. The next: this door."
"Does it lead to the alley?"
The door was positioned a couple feet from the fire escape window. If it led outside in the conventional way, anyone walking through would experience a three story drop into the alley. Charlie had spent an afternoon on the fire escape jabbing the appropriate section of bricks with a broom handle, but there'd been no give. He'd done similar research from the alley, looking for an outline, discoloration, or any sign that a door might exist there. There were none.
"I don't think so."
"So it's decorative then. It kind of reminds me of the entrance to a club me and the body used to enjoy back in the eighties."
"Have you ever tried to open it?"
Charlie changed the channel with the remote.
"You have, haven't you? Well? What's on the other side?"
Charlie had opened the door, of course. In fact, within moments of noting the door's appearance, he'd reached for the knob and pulled. He didn't like what he'd found, but for a time, he couldn't help himself. If the door was closed, he had to open it. He had to study what lay beyond the plane. Often, the urge to reopen the door just seconds after pushing it closed was so strong that an entire night would pass with him at the threshold.
A weatherman, positioned up close and personal with the camera, stared at Charlie. His gleaming eyes and erratic mouth put his expression somewhere between ecstasy and the rapture.
"Some serious winter weather is on its way," he said. His eyes managed to bulge a bit wider on the words serious and winter. "Find out what this means for you, at ten."
"If it was so serious . . ." Charlie mused.
"Why doesn't he tell us now?"
"So what's on the other side of the door?"
"Hey, Fred," Charlie said. "You hungry? Wanna eat?" In an instant, Fred went from sleep to fully alert and dancing in front of the television.
"How do dogs do that?"
"Smaller brains require less complex startup routines."
In the kitchen, Charlie combined a can of dog food with dry kibbles to create Fred's favorite soft and crunchy stew. The brain was moving around in the other room—that unnatural clicking again—and though Fred gave the impression of interest only for his food, Charlie was sure the movement must be making the dog uncomfortable. What was going on out there?
He put the food bowl down, and Fred began to eat. Watching the dog, Charlie supposed he needed dinner himself.
He opened the refrigerator and then the freezer. Woefully bare.
Recently, Charlie had awakened to the travesties of the food establishment. He blamed corn's colonization of all foods for the rise in obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. He found the vile conditions forced upon food animals to be both inhumane and ripe for the spread of disease. And most interesting of all, food supposedly didn't taste as good as it used to. As a result, he decided to spur the traditional food channels and become a regular at the Farmers' Market.
They held it every Saturday morning on Main and First, an easy fifteen-minute walk from Charlie's apartment. He envisioned taking Fred with him and how nice the morning sunshine would be and how good it would feel to buy foods that were better for him, the animals involved, and even the planet.
That was the plan, and he'd even gone so far as to eliminate his trips to the grocery store. Somehow, Charlie never made it the Farmers' Market, and now, he was down to his last bag of corn chips.
The brain had stopped moving.
Charlie noticed the winter wind howling to get in, the pellets of ice striking the window, and the harsh rattle of the fire escape. He heard Fred chomping and smacking at his dinner. A baby cried in a nearby apartment. All Charlie could think was Why is it so damn quiet?
He set a clean glass in the sink, and with slow, careful steps, he approached the corner separating the kitchen from the main room. He felt a grimace on his lips. His eyes had screwed into narrow slits. He stepped around the corner.
The door was open of course. He'd known that it would be. How the little meatloaf on crab legs had propelled itself so far from the ground and managed to turn the knob, Charlie could not fathom. But that was thing about brains. Sometimes they were smart. Sometimes they could even accomplish the impossible.
He should run over, grab the red vinyl door, and slam it shut. He should do it now. Why spend hours pondering the wound in front of them only to seal it off when he became too weary to stand? Why not avoid all that and close it now? Close it this instant.
The brain, entranced, softly clicked a claw open and closed. Open and closed.
Shut the damn door!
Charlie stood where he was.
"What's over there?" the brain asked.
"I don't know."
"You don't know? But. . . . How?"
I never got around to it? It never felt right? The whole thing scares the hell out me? How indeed?
"But aren't you curious?"
"Of course I'm curious," Charlie retorted. "Of course I want to know. I hate not knowing. I've spent days in front of that fucking door. I've waved my hands through the opening. I've poked a broom as far as I could reach and then launched it like a javelin. I've tried to stand with one foot planted on the other side. I've thrown a whole box of baseballs through the opening, pitching them one by one as hard as I fucking could. I've even tied a rope around my waist and consulted a bottle of whiskey for courage, but I could never get farther than you are right now."
The brain stood there, its claw opening and closing. Charlie realized the meatloaf wasn't listening. The pull of the red door. Nothing else mattered. He deflated.
"Besides," he said. "Who would look after Fred if it's a one way trip?"
The crab legs shivered, and the claw accelerated its motion.
"What if there's nothing over there?"
That was the thing about the door. You opened it, and you felt that something existed there. You felt that if you stepped through, amazing things would greet you on the other side. Tragically, simply looking or waving a hand or poking the area with a broomstick gave no indication what they might be. All that could be discerned was a dark and inconsistent void. No light. Not an even an absence of light. No texture—nothing at all to be seen or touched—and yet the space seemed to swirl and spiral. Something was there, but you could only know it through action.
Charlie took a step forward.
The brain did as well.
One step. Two. Three four five—
The brain disappeared into the void.
Another step and Charlie felt his momentum taking him over the threshold. In moments, he'd see the other side. He'd never waste another night staring into the void. The mystery would be explained. He'd know.
He reached out. His fingers brushed the padded vinyl frame. Then dug in. His other arm flailed. Where? He couldn't— There. He locked his arms. Pain exploded through his limbs. They threatened to snap. But his momentum halted and then reversed. Suddenly, Charlie fell backward, landing on the soft—if slightly crunchy—carpeting of his apartment. He kicked the door closed. The spiraled rivets mocked him, but then Fred licked his face, and all Charlie could see was the dog.
"You're my buddy," he said.
The weatherman had returned. Either hours had passed since the brain opened the door or the news had broken into regularly scheduled programming. Both events seemed equally plausible.
"DPS has already responded to more than twenty accidents," the weatherman said. "And we're getting word that the interstate is closed through downtown." He shook his head. "Folks, this is some serious weather. If you don't absolutely have to go out tonight, please, stay where you are."
"The Red Door" is Erik Secker’s first published work of fiction. He lives in Austin, TX with his wife and one-year-old son and is currently at work on numerous projects.
copyright © 2008, Erik Secker
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—The Red Door
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