by Nathan Hall
Standard legal stuff: I own all the rights to this story. All the characters involved are entirely fictional and entirely my own. Any resemblance to persons living or dead, real or fictional, is purely coincidence.
Feel free to read this, or share it with others. Just don’t alter it without my permission or share it without passing on my name as its author.
Doors were a constant source of horror to me as a child; it was my thing. Yours might have been different—a shadow under the bed, the basement, stairs—but you had one. One of those irrational fears that none of us can explain.
Mine was doors. I had night terrors in which things sneaked out from the gap beyond an open door, out of that inky blackness past my nightlight’s reach. Unspeakable things, things whose bodies blended into the midnight-dark silhouettes of my bedroom. I spent many long nights hiding under my blankets for fear that the doorway-creatures could get me.
My parents tried to console me, first with the aforementioned nightlight, then by leaving the bathroom light on, then by letting me sleep with my lamp on. But always, always there was that taunting void where light grew just dim enough to harbor secrets—to harbor dangers.
Don’t mistake me. Darkness never scared me—or rather, only ever a specific kind of darkness. Drop me in a closed room in the dark, and I’d be nervous. Drop me in a lit room, with a doorway that led to darkness, and I’d be petrified.
It wasn’t long before my child’s mind invented a history for the creatures. They were invaders from a universe in which light did not exist. They had no eyes, and they wanted mine, so they could see in this world.
In the end, the only thing that could calm me was that the doors were closed. Every one of them. At all times. If it was noon in the summer, and someone left a sliding glass door open, I would leap up to shut it. The very sight of an open door made my skin crawl. They were there, not watching me, but listening, sniffing, feeling for me, for weakness, for opportunity.
My fears carried into adulthood. When I went to college, my dorm mate learned about my phobia, and harassed me by leaving doors open wherever he went—knowing I would chase after and close them. Then, he started opening doors that I had closed. He never admitted to it, but I knew it was him. We argued bitterly for the last weeks of the first semester. I switched rooms after my first finals.
I found a dorm mate who was much more accommodating to my phobia, as long as I squashed the spiders wherever they appeared. My grades rose immediately, once I was able to focus on my studies. I met a girl, and we started dating. I even took up guitar, though I only ever learned to play as far as the first chorus in “Stairway to Heaven”.
But then…Then, my new dorm mate started leaving doors open. He made a point of closing them firmly behind him, where I could see him, but it seemed like every time I turned around a door was open. I didn’t do much about it, but close them, and start throwing him resentful looks.
I tried to resist closing the doors. I really, really did. Immersion therapy, it’s called—I took a semester of Psychology. But, after my foot started tapping, after my teeth started to grind, after I bit my fingernails to raw stubs, I could never resist closing them. I could almost swear I heard whispers, in some alien language. Was I hallucinating? Was my new dorm mate even worse than my old one? I moved out, onto near-campus housing with my girlfriend, before I could decide.
Finally, I’d found someplace to relax. Someone who was diligent in closing each and every door she came across. She would look at me, and smile, and we’d listen for the click that meant it was shut. I knew she did it for my benefit, but it worked. For the first in a long time, I slept well, and could concentrate on my studies and on the part-time job I’d taken on to help pay for the apartment.
I walked out when I found a door ajar. She seemed to almost understand, as I curtly explained about the door. She looked sad, pitying. I berated her that I didn’t need her pity, driving her to tears. Finally, as I walked out, she shouted the words I had expected. “I know I shut that door!”
The apartment I’m in now isn’t too impressive. A living room, bathroom, kitchen, and bedroom, with a little hallway in between. Four doors, in all. Cheap and thin, no good against a burglar. But they all have shiny little knobs, with nice new locks. No one was there to leave doors open, to open them up behind me. And I kept the keys safe, on my person. No chance of someone leaving them open. Not a chance.
Living alone for the first time is rough. I always worry. I can barely afford the crummy apartment on my salary, even after I switched to full time after college fell through. I can always hear my neighbors, whether they’re fighting, watching TV too loudly, or knocking their bed against the wall. I hardly ever get any sleep. When I do, it’s full of nightmares.
I’ve become absentminded, lately. Too much stress. Not enough sleep. Little things, mostly. Forgetting which key goes to which lock… Leaving coffee on to boil… Letting food sit spoiled in the fridge because I forget to throw it out. But it’s only in the last couple of days…
That I’ve been forgetting to shut the doors.