The Locked Door

Submitted into Contest #130 in response to: Write a story titled ‘The Locked Door.’... view prompt

1 comment

Fiction Inspirational Science Fiction

The door has always been there. It was in my earliest memories, even though I didn’t realize it until much later. Made of smooth, dark wood, set with a heavy knob of old brass with a large keyhole beneath it, the door was like something from an old, spooky house, right down to how it made me feel every time I saw it.

My first clear recollection of the door was at my third birthday party. I guess that was when I first really noticed how odd it was. It was hard to focus on anything for long at that age, especially with a roomful of toddlers smearing cake over everything. But it was there, standing in the wall next to the refrigerator, where I was sure there’d never been a door before. Even as I opened presents and gorged on sweets, my gaze kept going back to it. It hovered in my sight, seeming to peer at me over my mother’s shoulder while she fussed around and took pictures. Eventually, of course, it slipped out of my young mind, and I got back to enjoying my big day. But the memory stuck with me, and so did the door, showing up in strange places around the house, almost every time I turned around.

So I was even more surprised to see it on a playground one day. It was one of those small, pocket parks, surrounded by old buildings, with a swing set, a seesaw, and a few of those plastic riding animals set on big springs. I was eight or nine, riding on a swing, seeing how high I could go. From the top of my arc, I looked around, and there it was. It was in the wall of an old building covered with graffiti. The door stood out, of course, because it was untouched, just smooth, dark wood, with a heavy brass knob and a big keyhole.

I hopped off the swing and hurried over, ignoring the calls of my friends. It was just that I knew the door shouldn’t be there, that I’d seen this very door somewhere else. A lot of other places.

The closer I got to the door, the stranger I felt. It was like there was something familiar about it, something tugging at my mind, trying to get me to remember something. At the same time, I was a little scared, or maybe just weirded out.

Whatever was going through my mind, I know that was the first time I tried to open it. I set my hand on the big, shiny knob, and tried to turn it.

It was locked.

I twisted and tugged at the knob, but it didn’t give at all. It might as well have been part of the wall. My friends kept calling to me, urging me to come back and play. So, with a last curious, suspicious glance at the door, I turned away.

Things got even weirder when I was a teenager. Older, and better able to process the world around me, I realized that this door didn’t behave in any logical way. I saw it at different places around the house. Standing next to my bedroom closet door. In the living room beside the TV. In the shower. It would even show up at my job at the grocery store, standing in the wall of the break room or in the middle of an aisle.

Yes, I told other people about it. That was perhaps the strangest part, because each and every time I did, they looked at me, then at the door, then back at me. Then they shrugged and told me that the door had always been there, with a look on their faces like I was being an idiot. After a while, I stopped telling other people about the door. It was either that or have a psychotic episode.

I knew there was nothing normal about that door. Every so often, as I walked past on my way to doing something else, I’d give the knob a turn and a tug, thinking that maybe this time it would open. It never did.

When I went away to college, the door was one of the few things that I took with me. It hung around my dorm room, followed me to my classes. It stood on the sidelines when I tried out for basketball, sat at the end of the bleachers went I went for swimming trials. It hovered anxiously below the clock on the wall when I took my finals, and looked over my shoulder like a proud parent as I received my scores.

I remember the night after graduation, which is amazing, since I was pretty drunk. The door stood in one corner of the room, looking on with what I was sure was a disapproving air. I stumbled over to it, stepping over comatose roommates and wading through the litter of empty beer bottles. I stood swaying in front of it for a long time, then I reached out and tried to open it again. Still no luck. I asked it to open. Said “Open Sesame.” Yelled and shouted at it, banged on it with balled fists. Nothing happened. It stayed closed, silent and inscrutable until I turned away and staggered off.

When I got my first real job, the door was there, standing behind my new boss during the interview, watching as we shook hands. It was there every day I came to the office, sometimes in my tiny cubicle, sometimes at the water cooler, sometimes at the cafeteria. It was there for every promotion, with me as I climbed through the ranks, and settled comfortably into a management job.

The door was there the day I met the woman I loved, watching as a friend introduced us, looking on as I worked up the nerve to ask her out. It was with us on that rainy night when I knelt and showed her the ring. It was there the day we married, standing in the church to one side of the altar. I was so nervous, but somehow, seeing it there was… comforting. Reassuring. Maybe I felt like it was offering me a way out if I wasn’t sure about what I was doing. Or maybe it was the reminder that whatever else changed in my life, one thing would always be there. So, I kind of appreciated it. That was the first time I did so. When I said my vows, I could have sworn it was looking on in approval.

It was there when I held my first child in my arms. I stood in the hospital room, my wife lying exhausted in bed, cradling this beautiful, tiny person in my arms, and I looked up to see the door there, half hidden behind the privacy curtain. It almost seemed to be nervous, as if it wasn’t sure its presence was welcome. I pulled the curtain the rest of the way open, and showed my baby to the door. Somehow, it didn’t feel as weird as it sounds.

It was there all the days we lived together. No matter where we went, where our lives took us, it followed. From a small apartment to a little house, to a larger place in a nice neighborhood. Wherever we went, it was with us, watching as we changed, as our family grew larger and older. It saw good times, and it saw bad ones.

It was there the day my wife was diagnosed with cancer, there through all the surgeries and the chemotherapy, there while I sat in hospital waiting rooms or spoke to doctors with their kind, apologetic voices. It was there the day she died, a calm presence, comforting in its silence as I stood there, leaned my head against its smooth wood, and wept my heart out. I tried the knob again, the first time I’d done that in a while. I hoped that it would open this time, that it would let me through, let me go somewhere far away, someplace where it wouldn’t hurt so much. But it was still locked, and wouldn’t open.

It was there all the years I lived alone, hanging on to my independence with the stubbornness common to the elderly and really tough stains. It was there when my kids stopped visiting or calling, when their lives took them far away from me. It was there when I fell and couldn’t pick myself up, waiting with me for the paramedics when I felt the terrible pain in my chest.

It was there as I lay in a small bed in another hospital room, with a small collection of cards and flowers scattered around me. It was there, listening to the hissing and beeping of strange machines. It was there as I counted my remaining breaths.

It was there that I noticed the key.

It lay on the small table beside my bed, partially covered by the get-well cards. An ornate key of heavy, cold brass. And then I realized that it had always been there, too. That I could have opened the door anytime I wanted to.

I pushed myself upright, shoving aside the blankets, twisting so that my feet touched the cold floor. The machines started bleating out alarms at I tugged cords and tubes out of my body. Footsteps sounded from somewhere nearby, hurrying toward me. I had to move fast. I couldn’t let them stop me.

I snatched up the key. Leaning on the bed rail, then the IV rack, then the back of a chair, I made my way to the door.

It stood there, across the room, waiting with its infinite patience.

I fitted the key to the lock, clumsily scraping against the smooth, hard wood and worn metal. It turned with a click, startlingly loud.

Then I set my hand on the knob, and turned.

The door opened.

And my life flashed before my eyes. I saw, through the doorway, everything that it had been there for, everything that it had seen. My birth, my life, my choices, my mistakes, my failures, and my triumphs. It seemed to be asking me if I was… satisfied. If I’d done enough, and done it well. Could I… go on, or did I want to go back, and try again. I could step through, start over. Maybe I could do better, fix what I’d done wrong, make better choices, and reach a better result.

I stood there, shaking with weariness, caught in indecision. I stood before the open door, feeling the temptation to make another go of everything, and maybe not end up facing death alone.

But as I watched my life play out, I realized I was content. I had done the best I could with what I’d been given. I’d made the most of my time. The door may have offered me a chance at a do-over, but I knew that it had seen everything I had, and wasn’t judging me. I didn’t need to step through the door, didn’t need to go back. I was ready to move on.

I swung it shut, turned the key, and walked away from the locked door.

January 28, 2022 22:56

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

1 comment

Lucy G
02:53 Feb 04, 2022

I love the concept behind this story. How the door started out as a haunting and unknown thing that was something to fear or question, and with time it progressed into a significant part of the narrators life. It was the only constant in an ever changing world, and it will ultimately take the narrator to the end when they're ready. Such a unique and cool concept. I also really enjoyed the descriptions of each phase of the narrators life. Amazing work. thank you for sharing!


Show 0 replies

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.