Entrance Without an Exit

You may never see the door. Whether by some existential whim or by the minutiae of chance, you may not once in your entire life see the strange door. Some people who have heard of it seek to find and open it if they can, by participating in sleep studies or lucid dreaming. By skirting peril and doing any of a hundred things that warp consciousness, befuddle it, change and endanger it. But, in most cases, their efforts will still only ever yield a yearning that never truly goes away.

By supposing that one might to study it without being pulled into its hold like the accretion disk of a black hole, let's take a look at it – though the door most often resembles any ordinary threshold, it has been known to become a door in the more figurative rather than literal sense; but in this instance, we will only concern ourselves with what we know to be familiar. It's easier that way.

Now.

Right now, it is made of a strikingly dark wood that glows when the right light is cast on it; probably ash, walnut, or very old red oak. The kinds of hardwood timbers that shouldn't emit flickers of blue or violet reflections under ordinary circumstances. But nothing here is ordinary, as you should know by now. It looks heavy, absurdly so, locked in its frame, certainly more than an inch and a half in thickness, though dimensions mean very little here. It's highly conceptual here, and it likes to remind you of that. When it appears to you it may reach as high as your shins, or it may stretch higher than anything that ought to be alive.

There is nothing here but the door secured in its frame. The frame isn't special, either, merely made of the same substance as the door, a continuation or an extension of the same cut. There might be a blackness deeper than any natural darkness surrounding the door, or it might be a shade of white paler than tundra snow, both wholly constrictive in their function. Each is a different face of Oblivion, the penultimate Nothing, or at least that's the impression you're meant to have here.

Oblivion may be too strong a word, too brutishly simple for this non-location – it would be better to refer to it as Disorientation. "A state of mental confusion characterized by inadequate or incorrect perceptions of place, time, or identity." With this nominal correction, let's proceed from this chaos, back to the door.

The doorknob, if it chooses to display one, is different each time, for each individual and their infinitely changing mindset. Sometimes, the handle looks like it wasn't made to be grasped by a hand with five fingers. Sometimes there is no handle, just the bare wooden surface beckoning a touch by its mere existence, a whispered promise of answers locked behind it.

The boy standing at the door brushes his bangs out of his eyes – hair so long and black like a slab of oil shale – and squints hard between the two trunks. The door has become a pair of birch trees that have breached the cement and plaster holds of the ceiling beneath him, rising up and up to the sky as straight as birch trees occasionally are; one has broken in half and is being shouldered by its twin, forming an oblong rectangle. He's spent, he's supposed, five minutes walking around the damn thing, seeing only one quarter of the Disorientation at a time. The Disorientation has decided to look like a city, what the boy supposes a very big city might look like, all sprawling colorless towers and constructs and precarious streets like mismanaged teeth, all the residents grey and featureless, rather like clay molded into humanoid shapes; a City of cities.

Here, the sepia-colored skies paint his skin like the flesh of a ripe peach. His body is sleek and hairless, as thin as promises, hip bones jutting like cowcatchers on a freight train. He might be nude, might be dolled up for the stage already, but he doesn't know – doesn't know and doesn't care. He knows he doesn't need makeup to hide the ugly plum bruises on his arms and face here, the same way he knows that the swelling around his left eye has gone down. His father can't find him here, no breeze to carry alcohol-soured insults and petty jibes in his ears and down his throat. His bandmates can't find him here, sucking out the money he'd earned and scoured from ashtrays in unlocked cars or handjobs in shit-and-disinfectant smelling stalls. No johns plying for his attentions, mistaking him for a good time.

Nothing can hound him and bite away what little vestiges of dignity he still has left. Here is only himself and his thoughts, and the two trees that look like they're making a door. He ponders and puzzles and paces a bit more. He pouts in his frustration, pouts the way he'd seen Joan Crawford do in Rain, and continues to walk around the trees, stepping to the ledge and looking down, seeing more of the same. He sighs, a sound that seems to him like a trapdoor opening on rickety hinges. He's tired; even in this place that he's certain is little more than a dream, he's tired.

To fill in the time – along with his exhaustion, he's still concerned that Time still elapses here – the boy tries to remember how he got here. His pace quickens as he worries if this is a dream that's gone too lucid from the alcohol or the little colored tabs he'd been fed hours earlier by the short smiling man with a razor burn and shiny spectacles. Is he sitting on a barstool right now, asleep and drooling on the counter, losing the sensation on one side of his face while someone gropes him through his clothes? Is he kneeling in the back corner of a bathroom stall, black-and-blue mascara running in dirty rivers down his face and mumbling to himself? Is he in a hospital, vomit crusting on his nightgown as he's sweating out some substance fever?

Or can he allow himself a second of contentment and just believe that he's sleeping somewhere warm and secure this time? Does he still have some worth left to warrant it? The boy lets out another rusty hinge sigh and crosses his arms over his chest. He shifts his weigh to one hip, stares at the two white trunks. It's too easy to see the dark parts as eyes, so he tries to see them as something else.

Anopheles, that was the name of their band. He and his sister had to do something to get the hell out of that town, so they dropped out of high school and boarded Lisa's boyfriend's Pontiac, going up and down the state and pretending to call it their "grand tour," scraping up enough cash from gigs to eat and sleep. Everything was third- or second-hand refuse, from their dingy black clothes and cigarettes, lipstick and kisses, but they did what they could with what they had. He found a Mustang jazz fender in the back of a Chinese restaurant and that was a good time, until Lisa caught him taking advantage of her boyfriend at the end of a job. The boy wished that that was one of the hundreds of nights buried in a haze of misrecollection and forgetfulness, one deplorable moment better off lost and forgotten, but he wasn't that lucky.

He could remember the badly upholstered couch dragged into the corner of the room, a big spring trying to dig through his boot; hands searching up and down his back; the taste of cheap beer and eucalyptus cigarettes; sandpaper stubble. He remembered feeling happy, happier than he'd been in a long time. He felt that this was where eternity resided, and he wouldn't mind if he stayed right here forever, until the business end of a lead pipe found the back of his head, sending his forehead into the wall. He felt claws on his shoulders, breaking the skin, as his sister threw him backward off the couch. He landed on a soggy shag carpet the color of hemlocks under a storm of incredulity and fury.

She was screaming at him and at Jake, but he couldn't hear more than half of it for the ringing in his ears. He felt something (the familiar pointed toe of her own boots) jam into his stomach and his back. She and Jake were howling at each other for what felt like forever, and then the door slammed with the finality of a back-cover of a book. Eventually the ringing stopped and he was bathed in silence.

Exiting the room, he found that they had taken the Pontiac and am-scrayed, abandoning him here. His head full of agony, his belly full of worry and confusion, he hitchhiked and stumbled into the nearest city, into whatever corner of the city where a pretty goth boy wasn't such an exotic bird and remained there.

He wished he could upend those nights and days that followed like a dusty mildewed box from an attic or a basement, empty it, fill it with better days and nights. He wanted to remove those hurts and pains that crept up like an unscratchable itch, so deep as they were. The boy was more than familiar with Want, knew how deep that itch got to be, sometimes.

The boy inhales and lets it out in a brief angry gust, and the sound didn't seem quite so petulant this time. He felt himself resigned, though to what he wasn't sure. Not to yesterdays, not to tomorrows. He was just tired of wanting, tired of having ambition and failure in equal measurement. As he paced he pivoted on his foot and walked between the two birch trunks, one of them bent and leaning against the other, like a door.

There was a gust of wind.

The boy blinked, brushed the hair out of his eyes.

The boy was standing in a dirt road, and the wind was purring at his clothes. He frowned and turned on his feet, looking for the city that had surrounded him a moment ago. That aching worry began to gnaw at him again. The sallow sky was a sharp blue and spackled with whispers of clouds – he could hear the hoarse concerto of the willow trees around him. There was a pale blue house at the bottom of a hill; windblown laundry flag-like on a taut cord; vehicle parts left out to fade with the weather and the soil. In the distance over the hill, there was a city, more familiar than the one he'd left. After a while, the boy walked toward the house.

On a tilted mailbox was his last name. He frowned at it, nearly scowled at it. A pair of birch trees, still so young their branches and trunk were bloody red, flanked the box; in time either they or the mailbox would have to be relocated. He continued down the road and came to the front porch. Rubbish was strewn along it, reminding him of the room he and his sister used to share. He raises his hand to knock on the door, and then he pauses – his hand hangs in midair like a symbol of rebellion or power, and now as uncertainty. What if the dream was construing another trick? What if it was just leading to some other illusion? Would he wake up then – was he even sleeping?

The boy's hand knocked on the door, and it sounded solid enough. Simple hardwood painted white as linens, white as the clouds. He waited while the only answer was the wind. A chime was dangling from the rafters, a weird amalgamate of sheet metal and copper wire woven into something that vaguely resembled a lizard. His sister loved things like that.

The door opened. His sister stood inside the doorway, and she didn't look any older than when he last saw her. She looked at him, her eyes greener than jungle canopy. She didn't smile. She didn't shut the door. Her lips turned up in a tiny smile as she stepped over and threw her arms around him in a hard hug.

He was happy that she didn't shut the door.