STORYLINE - 16: DOOR TO WHERE? A Hint at the Unexplained
A way out, or a way in - to where? 'Where's this lead to?'
I was talking to myself more than asking him.
'What was it you said?'
As with me, this was the first time Terry had been out of Europe. We'd been to the Costa del Sol, the Costa Dorada and the Costa Packet, where we nearly lost our shirts in the casino. We both swore... That's when the bouncers saw us off. We swore next that would be the last time for us in a casino, that's no lie!
'Where's the wardrobe?' I didn't seem to be listening so he said again, 'Where's the wardrobe?'
'It's in there, isn't it?' I pointed to the far side of the room. He shuffled to the door and opened it,,,. Then slammed it shut again. He was ashen.
'Wha-at?' I asked, striding across to him. I opened the door and looked. There was nothing there. When I say nothing, I mean... nothing. How was that? I shut the door again and, looking at Terry again I scratched my head. I wondered how anybody could explain this. I mean there was just a void, like a blank canvas. I thought of something.
'Terry', I said, not sure about what I'd say next.
'What?' He looked at me. I was supposed to be the brains here. He expected me to come up with the answers.
'Terry, what was out there on the street?'
'Whaddya mean, Tom? All I saw was traffic and people walking past the door as we came in. What was I supposed to see?'
'We passed an alley, didn't we?' I asked, thinking back to when we came here from the bus station. We'd only reached this city this afternoon from the airport, and we already had a problem. What do we tell the rental people who let us have the flat, er... apartment, for such it was described online.
'I don't remember. I was too busy gawping at the girls!'
I had to pull him back or else he'd have followed them down the block, and told him we'd probably see just as good in the bar down the street. He only reluctantly followed me back to the door to the apartment block, past an alley that seemed to go nowhere. A dead end, a high brick wall. 'So there must be something at the back of this block', I told myself, 'even if we're not supposed to enter at ground level.
'So anyway, where's the wardrobe? All my clothes'll get wrinkled up in this travel bag unless I can hang them up. Or don't they have wardrobes in the States?' Terry was really miffed. He had his bag open on the bed he'd claimed as soon as he'd banged the door open to the bedroom and dropped like a rock onto the bed after first throwing his bag onto it.
'Think of a wardrobe', . I said, 'and open the door'.
He looked at me as though I'd sprouted another head. His mouth opened, mouthed the words and he went to the door.
'Still nothing', he came back after slamming the door shut again. 'Try again'.
'This is no good', I cursed my bad luck. Terry can be trying at times. I traipsed across the room and flung the door wide open, thinking 'wardrobe'.
'No. You're bloody right, Terry. When you're right, you're right. Oh well, think 'back yard''.
'Right then, back yard it is - er, what kind of back yard, Tom? D'you mean like at home, with my brother Jack's car in pieces and the clothes flapping about on the line?'
I shouldn't think so, Terry. Not everywhere's like our estate. No, er, think of a fire escape and an array of rubbish bins -'
'Trash cans, Tom, is what they're called here. All right then, fire escape and trash cans it is - hey ho, off we go and - ah, well, how did you guess?' He held the door open for me to see and true enough all I saw was a fire escape and trash cans, nothing else!. It was as if somebody had plonked the fire escape and bins, er, trash cans there for our benefit.
'All right then', I told Terry. 'It's not a wardrobe'. I shut the door, opened it again as suddenly and shut it. Weird.
We shuffled along the wall between the bedroom door and the sitting room door, then along the next wall. Avoiding the door we'd opened time after time, we went to the fourth wall. Ah-ha! Small door handles stuck out, hardly noticeable. I pulled on one and a door opened. Coat hangers on rails, shelves for whatever we wanted them for, and a Bible. That could stay there for now.
'We should find somewhere to eat', Terry offered. Best idea he'd had all day. Who knows, we might drop in on the office and tell them about the door. 'How's that?' they'd say. 'A door that leads into - what, nothing?'
'Barmy Brits', they'd laugh behind their hands and nod at me. 'Got to humour them, eh? Ain't been the same since they surrendered at Yorktown they haven't been the same!' Loud guffaws. How would we live that one down? No, better not mention it, I thought. As far as they're concerned we're quaint enough already, what with our Northern English accents.
'Cute!' I heard one girl twang in the airport, and she winked before here boyfriend or husband dragged her off.
'I'll give her cute!' Terry said, grinning. He basked in it wherever we went. People looked at us as if we'd just come down from the trees. The daftest ones were the Germans. We didn't talk the way they were taught English and they thought we were foreigners, like them. They even tried to teach us how to speak English, 'Like the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh', they said.
Cheek. Anyway, we hung our clothes up in the wardrobe we thought was the wall, and set off out into the street. I'd almost forgotten about the door by the time we got back. Hank, the agent from the office was in the apartment, sitting with a coffee in the sitting room - fair enough, that's why it's called a 'sitting room' - and as soon as he saw us he stood and led us into the bedroom,
'Hi-ya!' he reached out a hand and we both shook, Terry and me. 'I betcha you haven't seen the garden!'
Terry looked at me, I looked back at him and we both looked at Hank,
'The what?' we said, almost chorused.
'The garden, boys. Don't tell me. You haven't been out there?'
'Lead the way', I said, winking at Terry. He managed to keep his laughter well bottled. We'd both keep it bottled until we saw the look on Hank's face. He opened the door.
The door we saw nothing out of now led to a large verandah with miniature palm trees and ferns in tubs. There was a small table on which we saw three glasses of beer, a plate of pretzels and what they call beer nuts this side of the pond.
'Sit and have a drink - what are your names again?' Hank asked and we told him, Terry and Tom. 'Sounds like a cartoon here, Tom and Terry!'
He laughed, we laughed and looked around. Below there was a yard with a fire escape and trash cans down at ground level. We finished our beers and the snack, said good night to Hank at the door to the apartment and went back to that door. It was still open, a light breeze moving the door. It shut. I opened it again and there was the balcony with the table, chairs and glasses.
Imagination's a wonderful thing... Sometimes. It can get you down as well.
This'll put a real chill down your spine, like tricking cold water on your back. M R James has been a favourite US author for me since reading a book, 'The Tractate Middoth' about someone who looks for a book and finds a mysterious cowled character reading the book before vanishing into thin air. A book at bedtime? Try it!
Is this your back yard?
There's nothing quite like the unexplained to get the old grey matter clicking and whirring into action... Things that go bump in the night... What's your poison? We had these episodes on the TV back in the 1970s and I didn't miss one - some of them pretty chilling
Tales of the Unexpected
This is my answer to Bill Holland's 'Door to Nowhere' writing exercise:
We're back across the pond again for another approach to the mundane. A touch of the supernatural to spice things up a bit, a soupcon of M R James? Just enough to get you wondering, 'Is this what's really there, or is it just me?'
Doubtless it'll tickle Bill. Nothing's straightforward, is it?