30-Day Flash Challenge, Day 3
November 11, 1974
The presence of the new door in the basement wall strikes me hard.
It shouldn’t be here; it wasn’t here before.
At some point, and despite them not getting along particularly well, dad had started delivering coal to our grandmother, his mother-in-law. She kept it in her basement, in a creaky plywood enclosure adjacent to her furnace.
We knew her as Grandma Hector. The lady with the bawdy stories, wildly inappropriate for children of today’s age.
Today, I felt ill. Too ill for school, that is. But dad needed help delivering grandma’s coal, and my headache soon passed. So when dad asked if I wanted to help him, I consented.
My sister, who won’t start school until next year, was the other possible assistant for today’s delivery. She’s four; how much help can she provide? But, she is an adorable creature; my sister, the one person in our crazy dysfunctional family who always put a smile on my face.
Dad finally noticed us gaping at the door. Kay stands next to me, similarly amazed by the door.
“What are you two gawking at?” he says.
Then he sees it, of course. We usually deliver coal here twice a month.
The door shouldn’t be here. It wasn’t here last week; my sister and I sometimes play chalk Tic-Tac-Toe on the basement wall. The strange new door covers half of our previous visit’s game. It was a game I had let her win, trying to impart to her the importance of seizing the center square.
Dad turns to me. At first, he appears to be mute; he looks back and forth between us, his oldest and youngest, several times. He’s like a man watching a tennis match.
“This is new; did Nora hire a new contractor?”
Anger is creeping into his voice. One thing you monitor in an alcoholic home is how angry the alcoholic is. It’s basic self-preservation in a world rocked by daily storms of chaos.
Nora was our grandma’s name; she played silly, profane songs on the organ in her bedroom.
He is growing angry; I can see it rising in his consciousness. Grandma pays for the coal, but dad never charged her for delivery, so if she’s suddenly employing builders to install new doors, then surely dad would be mad. He should be the recipient of such jobs and the labor for performing them.
A note about grandma’s house, it sits on a hill that slopes in two directions. The door sits near the corner of the basement at the least submerged point. As such, the door must be an exit out of the basement.
Dad awakens, steps forward, places his hand on the knob, and twists.
I feel my stomach sinking. I want to cry out but don’t. I’ve got a bad feeling about this door.
The door opens onto a dimly lit, long hallway. I don’t understand the length. It can’t be as long as it appears; the James house is just a few yards across the way, but this hall seems to be hundreds of yards long. It must be an optical illusion, I tell myself.
“Did the batty old broad install a root cellar?” Dad asks. But if he is asking Kay or me, neither of us offers a response.
He starts to step into the hall but then stops himself, and we exit the basement through the southern door. We cross the end of the paved patio and turn left to see what structure our eccentric grandparent has had constructed there.
But there are no external structures to be seen. The entire wall is blank as it slopes up to the backyard.
The door was only a few feet from the internal corner of the basement. Something is very wrong with this situation. I want to ask dad to take us all home, but I don’t. In an alcoholic home, there are rules, and begging for anything is out of the question.
“Go on. Just walk a few yards in, then come back; it’ll be okay,” dad says.
Color me skeptical, but I have my doubts. If it’s safe, then why isn’t he the one in here?
Holding my breath, I step into the hall.
I catch my sister’s eye as I cross the threshold. She is crying for some reason.
I walk ten yards, but the temperature is so cold, I’m violently shivering before I am even five yards into the tunnel.
I slowly walk backward out of the hall and into the basement. It takes all my willpower not to run screaming out of the hall.
“It’s cold in there,” I say to my father.
“And?” he says.
“And what?” I say.
“Did you notice anything else besides it being cold?”
“I did not,” I say, a lie.
He looks thoughtful for a minute.
Then turning to both of us, he says, “We don’t talk about this to anyone? Do you both understand?”
He carefully drills my sister until she is sobbing. But, in the end, she gets the point. This door is a secret. It must remain a secret. And, more importantly, perhaps, nothing happened today. We didn’t notice the door at all, and we sure as heck didn’t open it or explore the first thirty yards of its impossible existence.
When dad and I came back two weeks later, the door was gone. There was no trace that it had ever been there. I saw that the previous tic-tac-toe game was whole again.
August 15, 1996
We just buried our father today. We don’t have his body; he has only been legally declared dead after being missing so many years. We have no body, no suicide note, nothing to indicate he’s dead.
For my part, I know better. I know precisely where our father is. My sister probably does as well if she remembers what happened that cold November Monday in 1974. We, my sister and I, never spoke about that day again, not even once.
After grandma Hector died in 1984, dad bought her house and moved in to renovate the place. He started in the basement, of course. He had to make a show of actually renovating the house, but I could tell; what dad was really doing was looking for that door.
And now I’m wrestling with guilt. You see, I never told dad, my sister, or anyone what happened that day I walked into that impossible hallway. I heard a voice; I assumed it was some demon. It spoke in a whisper while filling my brain with images of dad as a teenager. In the vision, he and mom played with a ouija board in this basement, the very basement he disappeared from years later.
The price of playing with magick, the demon told me, was my father’s soul.
So when I heard he had disappeared, I knew; dad had finally found the door.
Originally published on MEDIUM.com on August 3, 2021.