“Hey Michael, can you grab the other end of this?” Stanley says, attempting to lift the heavy antique dresser. It is the final piece of furniture that needs to be removed from the guest room. “Sure, you know you really should have taken this wallpaper down a long time ago.” says Michael grabbing the other end, “It was cruel to subject your guests to such a hideous design.” “Hmmf” a noise escapes Stanley’s mouth that’s simultaneously a grunt and a laugh. “Is that why it’s been so long since you came to visit?” “You guys getting any work done in there?” A female voice says from down the hall. “This baby can only wait so long.”
When they had found out that Lily was pregnant they were overjoyed, even though it hadn’t exactly been planned. Now, they were in the process of transforming the guest room into a nursery. Stanley’s brother Michael had come to help. Today they were planning to remove the wallpaper that had been there since they had moved into the house five years ago. Although it was truly hideous, they had never felt the need to remove it before. In fact they had grown to have a strange affection for it. Still, the idea of raising a child in that room without some serious changes was out of the question.
“Hey,” Michael says startling Stanley out of his day dream “Let’s get to work.” Stanley takes one last look around the room before sighing and saying, “Alright, let’s get started.” The two brothers began peeling off the aging wallpaper. When they completely clear the paper from the first wall, Stanley notices something strange peeking out from behind the paper on the next wall. “Michael check this out, I think there’s something under here.” Stanley says as he begins to pull away the paper. “It looks like a little door.” Michael kneels down next to Stanley and looks down at what he’s doing. What he sees is a door, but one which no human being could have ever fit through. It measures approximately one foot tall by eight inches wide, and appears to be made of wood painted a dark green color. There is a gold plated key hole, but no knob.
Millions of questions flood Stanley’s mind. Who put this door here? When? Why? Who, or what, could have possibly been using it? But only one comes out of his mouth “How do we open it?” Michael gives his brother a strange look “Open it? Why would we wanna do that? Besides who says it even opens? Why don’t we just get on with our work and forget about it.” Stanley flashes his brother an equally strange look. “Forget it? Come on, aren’t you even the least bit curious?”
“Curious about what?” They had both been so involved in what they were doing that neither of them had noticed Lily walk into the room. They look up at her in unison and say “That.” pointing towards the door. She leans in as best she can with her newly protruding belly and takes a closer look. “It looks like something out of a fairy tale.” Stanley leans back in next to his wife and gives the door a nudge. It doesn’t move. He pushes it harder and still it won’t budge. “I think you need the key.” Lily says simply.
Stanley lays down flat on his stomach and puts his face up against the door. “Well maybe I can see something through the keyhole.” Despite the dusty smell of age coming from the wood there are no visible signs of aging anywhere on the door. The paint looks fresh and the gold keyhole sparkles as if polished. When he looks through the keyhole what he sees is not just one thing. It is everything. “Well,” says Michael “What do you see in there?”
“Nothing,” Stanley says with a grunt as he returns to a standing position. “It must just be some sort of decoration. There’s nothing on the other side but more wall.”
“Really? You were looking through it for quite a while. It seemed like something was getting your attention.” Michael bends over to look through the hole. “Hmm” he says as he peers through the door, “I guess there really is nothing to it. Should we try to take it down?”
“No!” cries Stanley a little too passionately. “I mean I kind of like it. Let’s just leave it there for now and go back to work on the rest of the room.”
“That’s fine with me, as long as the room is ready to go before this baby is!” With that they leave the subject behind and get back to work,
It takes them just three days to completely transform the former guest room into a shining new nursery, and just a couple of days after that Michael is on his way home. In all the excitement the door is all but forgotten.
Until one night when Lily wakes up to use the bathroom and notices that Stanley isn’t in bed with her. She walks up to the bathroom door and knocks, “Stanley,” she says as she pushes on the door “I hate to hurry you, but I don’t think I can hold,,,:” She breaks off there when the door opens and she sees that the bathroom is in fact empty. Suddenly her urge to use the restroom is replaced by a strange shiver that starts at the base of her spine and works its way up to her brain. “Stanley?” she repeats with a lot less confidence. She turns away from the bathroom and a flash of light catches her eye from down the hall. She walks out into the hallway and notices that the light is coming from the nursery. “What are you doing in there?” she says as she turns the corner, but she is once again greeted by an empty room. There is nothing there but a fading light coming from the all but forgotten door. She can’t say why but this light fills her with a deep feeling of dread.
She makes her way slowly back to the bedroom. “Stanley?” she says yet again this time not expecting any sort of response. She doesn’t get one, but she notices a lump on Stanley’s side of the bed. She walks slowly towards the bed and lifts the sheet not knowing what she expects to find. What she sees there is the familiar form of Stanley’s sleeping body. Instead of feeling a sense of relief her dread only deepens. She is sure that he was not there when she left and there is no way he could have gotten back into the bedroom without passing her in the hall. She does her best to shake this feeling and crawls back into bed. It takes her almost 2 hours to fall back to sleep.
When she wakes up in the morning Stanley is once again not in bed, but this time the door to the bathroom is open and she can see him at the sink brushing his teeth. Stanley spits into the sink, “Good morning sleepyhead. I was trying not to wake you.” Lily sits up slowly and rubs her eyes, “You didn’t.” she says with a yawn. His face drops in concern. “Did you sleep okay?” he asks “You look a little off.” “Fine,” she says waving a hand dismissively before turning the question on him. “What about you?” “Actually I can’t remember the last time I had such a good night’s sleep.” he says turning off the bathroom light and joining Lily on the bed. “Although, I had a really weird dream.” “About what?” “That’s the thing, I can’t really remember.” He says with a distant look in his eyes. “I just have a vague sense of light and being surrounded by…” he breaks off and the look in his eyes grows even more distant. “Surrounded by what?’ Lily asks nervously. “Hmm” Stanley shakes his head as if to clear it, “Nothing, it was just a dream.” he says as he gets up and continues to get dressed. “Anyway, I’m gonna be late for work if I don’t get going soon.” He gives her a kiss on the forehead before heading out the bedroom door. “Maybe you should just stay in bed for a while. You look like you could use the rest.”
Lily is so lost in thought that she hardly even notices Stanley leaving the room. Her distraction is so complete that only in the back of her mind does the sound of Stanley’s car pulling out of the driveway even register. The strange light from that door mixed with that almost haunted look in Stanley’s eyes weighs on her mind. She decides to get up and investigate the door for herself.
She picks up her robe and makes her way down the hall, “Ok” she says to herself “There’s nothing to worry about.” She laughs, “Except of course that I’m talking to myself.” She opens the door and walks into the nursery, unconsciously placing her hand on her belly. The room is bathed in an eerie glow, but the only visible source of light is the large window directly opposite the door. Lily walks over to the little green door and pokes at it with her foot as if it might bite. When nothing happens she taps it once again before carefully crouching down to examine it more closely. She touches it gently with her fingertips as if she expects it to be hot. It isn’t. In fact it feels like perfectly normal wood. She runs her fingers down its smoothly polished surface. She looks through the hole and sees nothing but darkness.
Her sense of dread is slowly replaced by a feeling of embarrassment. She was being ridiculous. Of course there was nothing behind the door. How could there be? There were four inches at the most between the wall and the next room. She begins to stand up but is stopped by an intense pain in her abdomen. She once again moves her hand towards her stomach but the pain is gone almost as quickly as it had come. She continues to stand, more cautiously now. She manages to get all the way to her feet and there is still no sign of the pain. She takes two tentative steps before feeling a strange warm sensation covering her legs. She has to look down before she realizes that what she is feeling is in fact wetness. Her water has broken and she is going into labor. Almost a month early. She manages to remain calm long enough to reach the phone.
Sitting in the hospital 24 hours later holding her new baby, all thoughts of the door are distant and insignificant. Stanley is by her side and her new family is as it should be. Although the baby was born prematurely, she is in all other aspects perfectly healthy. Stanley kisses his wife and new baby. “I hate to leave, but Michael should be getting in soon and I wanted to meet him at the house.” “Oh..well, If you think you should…” Lily says weakly. “If you think I should stay…” Stanly begins but Lily interrupts “No, Stan, I’m just being selfish Go ahead and meet Michael at the house. I feel like taking a nap anyway.”
When Michael arrives at his brother’s house he is weary but filled with excitement. He rings the door bell but gets no response. He rings it again and still there is nothing. “Maybe they forgot about me” he thinks without any real bad feelings. After all it was understandable that they would have more important things on their minds. He tries the doorknob not really expecting any results, but to his surprise the door opens easily. “Hey Stanley.” he calls out. “Stan It’s me. Are you in there?” Still there is no response. Michael walks into the house and sets his luggage by the door. He tries calling for his brother one last time before looking though the house to make sure no one else had been in the house.
When he ascends the stairs and nears the door to the nursery he hears voices. He stops in his tracks afraid that someone nefarious may be in the house. He listens for a while, struggling to hear what is being said. Finally, he recognizes his brother’s voice and his paralysis is broken. “Hey Stan, you scared the hell out of…” his statement is cut short when he sees Stanley crouched down in front of the little door apparently talking to himself. “Who are you talking to.” Stanley turns around and says what sounds like “…found the key.” then appears to realize who he is talking to and says “Hey Michael I didn’t hear you come in. Glad you’re here.” He hugs his brother who only half heartedly throws his arms around him. “Who were you talking to Stan and what was that about a key?” “What? Oh nothing. Hey we should get to the hospital. Lily is waiting.” Stanley says as he pats his brother on the back and heads out the door. “Yeah but…” Michael tries to argue before simply following his brother out the door.
In the car on the way to the hospital Michael tries questioning his brother again. “So what were you talking about back there in the nursery?” With a laugh Stanley says, “Oh I don’t know. I just went in there to double check that everything was ready and then,,,” he trails off, “Well, I don’t really remember. I must have been daydreaming or something. The next thing I remember is you standing behind me. Why didn’t you ring the bell, I would have come down and let you in.” Michael gives his brother a strange look before saying. “ I rang the doorbell twice and no one responded. So, I tried the door and it opened.” “Hmm” Staley says with a shrug. “Must have been some day dream.” A distant look enters his eyes, “I thought I locked that door.”
They are quiet the rest of the way to the hospital. Once there, Michael is glad to see Lily and excited to meet his new niece. However he remains distracted, waiting for a moment to talk to Lily alone. The moment finally arrives when Stanley steps out to get coffee. “Hey Lily,” Michael begins “Have you noticed Stanley acting a little weird lately?” Lily’s stomach does a flip. “What do you mean?” she says, although she has a pretty good idea. “Well, today when I got to the house I found him in the nursery crouched in front of that little door talking to himself and when I asked him about it later he couldn’t quite remember what he’d been doing there.” he paused. “And he got this look in his eyes like. I don’t know..” “Like he was possessed” Lily finishes for him. “Exactly! So, you have noticed.” She sighs, “Yes,..” But before she can finish the thought Stanley comes back into the room. “Hey guys,” he hands Michael his coffee and takes a seat. “What are you talking about?”
After one night in the hospital, Lily and the baby are able to go home. Putting Susannah into her new crib for the first time, Lily is sure she will never be able to leave her side. However Susannah quickly falls asleep and Lily finds she is struggling to stay awake herself. Instead of fighting it, she heads to bed. With Stanley laying next to her, Susannah in the next room, and Michael downstairs on the couch, Lily feels a deep sense of belonging and drifts off to sleep easily. She is soon awoken by the wailing infant cry from the next room. She sits up so quickly she nearly falls out of bed, but Stanley is already on his feet and heading out the door. “Don’t get up honey. I’ll bring her in to you.” he says as he leaves the room. Lily lays back down feeling lucky to have such a caring husband. But the seconds pass and turn into minutes and there is still no sign of Stanley.
“Stanley?” Lily calls questioningly “Is everything okay in there?” When there is no response she tries again, “Stanley?” before getting up and heading to the nursery. As soon as she stands up the crying comes to a sudden, complete stop and in its absence the silence is deafening. She rushes into the nursery just in time to see a sudden brilliant flash of light showing the outline of Stanley’s body holding up their baby as if in offering. The shock of the flash leaves her momentarily blind, but when her vision clears she can see that the room is now empty. Acting on instinct she heads towards the door, but it too is gone. There is nothing but solid wall in its place. The silence is broken by a wordless cry of misery and slowly, she realizes that it is coming from her own lips.
Jennifer Cox received her master’s degree in Library & Information Science from San Jose State University. She currently resides in Long Beach, CA. Her fiction has appeared in the online journals Static Movement, Postcard Shorts, and Death Head Grin.