The One with the Red Door

Andrew Kozma

Wyld FLASH 23 Apr 2021

When you dream of your childhood home, the red door is in the kitchen, right next to the pantry. Everyone else in the dream ignores the door, so you do, too.

When you dream of the water park where you almost drowned when you were twelve, the red door is in the wave pool, set into the concrete wall of the deep end where the wave machines are. And no matter what ride you head towards or what path you take, you always find yourself in that pool, the waves just starting up but already cresting so high they block out the summer sun.

And then there’s the dream of your high school, where you’re wandering the halls looking for your class, but all the room numbers are out of order, and it’s the last day of school, and if you don’t make it to class you won’t graduate, and there’s the red door at the end of the hall. There’s no glass square to look through to show you what’s behind the door. There’s no light coming from under the door. In fact, there’s a darkness which spills out from beneath the worn wood. And though you’re convinced the fastest way to your class is through the red door, you won’t chance it, and decide to take the long way instead. You know this means you’ll never reach your class on time, but the red door. The red door.

In the dream with the stairwell, one of those old, cold, concrete stairwells which every motel has but no one ever uses, you pass the red door constantly. You are climbing down, trying to get out of the motel because your lover is outside waiting to pick you up. You’re either going to a funeral or a wedding, you’re never sure, and you’re anxious because you don’t know if what you’re wearing is appropriate. But that anxiety is part of the dream—it’s an anxiety dream and the dream is entirely about being unprepared. You have this dream when you are planning a move to another city or thinking about quitting your job or trying to decide whether this relationship is the one. Night after night, the dream returns. No matter how long you climb down the stairs, you never reach the bottom. You never consider the red door.

In the dreams where you are flying, the red door still appears. On the plane where everyone’s asleep except for you, crew included, one of the exit doors is red. Through the tiny window, you see the darkness of space, the absence of stars, just a crimson moon. When you fly through the air yourself, wingless, the red door is in a cloud. You fly through the cloud behind the door, and there’s nothing there but more cloud. Still, you don’t open the door.

They weren’t dreams, they were nightmares. You’d be having sex with the physics professor from college you always had a crush on, and over his shoulder you’d see the red door looming.

You told me you never opened the red door. Every time you mentioned the door, you were dismissive, as though you couldn’t believe what you were telling me, but I saw the sleeping pills in your bathroom cabinet. You didn’t answer your phone. You didn’t show up to work. Your parents had no idea. All of your exes, they said it wasn’t their business, and it wasn’t mine.

I didn’t have your wild dreams. My dreams were of walking through downtown on a busy weekday afternoon where everyone else had somewhere to go and I was just drifting along with the flow. I dreamed of mowing grass on an endless lawn, a mansion on the horizon I was never allowed to enter. Standing in line at the DMV for hours on end. Wandering the aisles of Kroger with a half-full grocery cart trying to remember what it was I was supposed to buy.

After you disappeared, I was convinced the red door would show up in my dreams, too. It didn’t. There was no red door where it shouldn’t be, in the bathroom wall or prone on the sidewalk like a bad repair job. I stopped looking into the faces of those people in my dreams. I was afraid the red door would be where their eyes were. Or they’d open their mouth to speak with a red door tongue. I stole your sleeping pills. I began sleeping in your bed. I paid your rent.

When I finally saw the red door, I didn’t recognize it. I was on the bus on my way home from work, watching the world pass by while listening to the man beside me sing along to the music coming through his headphones. We passed a restaurant and right there, in the middle of the restaurant’s wall, was the red door, as bright and obnoxious as a clown’s make up.

Even then, I didn’t think what I’d just seen was the red door. Not the one you told me about, not the one you were terrified of. Who expects a dream to appear in real life?

But the red door showed up on the next block on a bank. Then a health food store. Then an accountant’s office. Then inside a bus stop shelter. We passed another bus, and one of their doors was replaced with the red door.

I ignored it, as though if I just pretended not to see it, it would go away. Show no fear, right? That’s what you always told me when we passed feral dogs on the street. If we pretend to be brave, we will be brave. If we pretend to know what’s going on, then no one will question us. If we act like we belong in the world, then we will be right at home.

The red door is in the bedroom.

I pretend it belongs there.

I pretend I don’t hear you knocking.

I pretend I will not open it.

Author bio: Andrew Kozma’s fiction has been published in Escape Pod, Flash Fiction Online, Daily Science Fiction, and Analog. His book of poems, City of Regret (Zone 3 Press, 2007), won the Zone 3 First Book Award.

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