by Saki Channing
“Where is it?” she muttered to herself. It was driving her crazy. It was crazy, turning her apartment upside down at two in the morning for a notebook she didn’t really need right now.
It could wait till the morning, but now that she’d gotten it into her head she couldn’t get it out. She’d just moved into this apartment -- her first apartment -- three months ago. Plenty of time to get things organized but not enough time for clutter to have accumulated. And it was a one-bedroom apartment. When the object in question -- a notebook of poems she’d kept since jr. high -- popped into her head, she assumed she’d be able to find it in five minutes.
But it wasn’t on her bookshelf when she scanned it, and still wasn’t there when she took each book off the shelf one by one to make sure her eyes weren’t passing it over.
Could she have left it in one of her boxes of stuff collecting dust in her parent’s garage? Unlikely. She carried that thing everywhere, she knew she wouldn’t have left it behind. She was surprised she’d gone so long without it -- she couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen it -- but she’d been busy settling into her job…
A friend carried it off, maybe? Alan came to mind, the last person to have come over…Also unlikely. When he’d visited he wouldn’t even use the bathroom without permission. If someone had taken it for a joke she would have heard something by now.
The office? That was the most likely solution. She must have taken it to work to read during lunch break and forgotten it. She could check first thing in the morning.
But the fact that she couldn’t recall taking it to the office, couldn’t immediately place where the notebook was in her mind, annoyed her. There was no way she was going to be able to sleep until she’d searched every nook and cranny of this apartment.
It was amazing, how many odd corners an apartment this size could have. Just last week, she’d discovered and unopened bottle of laundry detergent at the back of the shelf above the washing machine.
Speaking of which, there was a shelf above her clothes rack in the bedroom closet that she kept linens on. She wasn’t tall enough to see over the edge. She could have set the book up there while vacuuming, forgotten it, and covered it with towels.
It seemed a ridiculous amount of effort to bring a chair from the kitchen into the bedroom at two in the morning to look at a shelf, but there was no other way. She dragged the chair in and stood on it, shoved the linens aside.
“I need to dust back here,” she said, sneezing. At least there were no spiders.
No notebook either. But at the back of the closet a glint caught her eye. It was a long, thin brass-colored metal rod with a catch at the end.
She took it down from the shelf and held it in the light. She’d seen something like it before. Her uncle had one. She didn’t know the exact word for it, but her uncle had used it to pull down the steps that led to his attic.
Did she have an attic? The landlord hadn’t mentioned one, but then again she’d seen her landlord all of once, since he didn’t live here and she paid her bills through electronic transfer.
Notebook search put on hold momentarily, she began to search for the door that went with the rod. The breakers were all in the laundry room in the open, so the door should be a little more interesting than a breaker cabinet, at least.
She searched all the closets first, moving things out and running her hands along the floor searching for hidden seams. Nothing.
She walked through the entire apartment, her head craned upwards, staring at the ceilings. Nothing.
She stood in the middle of her living room, tapping the rod against her calf. Her eyes fell on the bookshelf. It wasn’t attached to the wall, she didn’t think, but it had been here when she’d moved in and in such a reasonable spot that she hadn’t bothered to move it.
Two in the morning though it was, she scooped armfuls of books off the shelf and dumped them on the couch, until all five shelves were empty. The bookshelf was made of that cheap clapboard stuff so she managed to move it by herself by lifting one end off the carpet and rotating it around.
There it was, the door, set into the wall. It was better than she’d thought -- not just a seam in the wall but a real miniature door with a frame. It was square, about two feet high and across. No knob, but there was a thin slot at one end.
She was excited. When she was a kid, these sorts of doors always fascinated her. Her uncle’s house, built in the thirties, had been full of them. Even though any door discovered inevitably led to a water heater or pink insulation that, her uncle said, would imbed glass splinters into you if you touched it, in the second before opening it there was always that thrill, fear and anticipation mixed, of the unknown. There was always the chance, her childhood self had felt, of finding something you didn’t expect.
Well, this door led to the outside wall so she wasn’t expecting much. But still.
She slid the end of the rod in. It fit as perfectly as a key. She had to pull a bit -- the walls had been painted just before she‘d moved in -- but the door came free as she fell onto her backside.
Behind the door there was ... darkness.
But not just any darkness. It was complete darkness, solid darkness, that the bright incandescent light from the living room lamp did not pierce. It reminded her of the darkness in her uncle’s attic that edged aggressively around the pool of light cast by the single bare light bulb.
She shut the door quickly. She wasn’t afraid of taking walks at night, or going to sleep alone without a light. But the darkness from her childhood memory terrified her. The memory was from the Christmas when she was in second grade, so she couldn’t have been more than eight years old, yet it was so vivid. Christmas lights, that’s what her uncle had gone into the attic for, and she’d trailed after him to help. She’d worshipped her uncle. He’d been a bachelor, big and burly with a long wild beard. He’d played guitar and built her dollhouse furniture and eaten peanut butter with everything. But he’d been sick with heart disease and had died not long after that Christmas, all alone in that big old house.
She hadn’t thought of her uncle in a long time. It was all because of the darkness. In her memory, she’d edged towards the border between the solid darkness and the pool of light.
“Don’t step out of the light,” her uncle had warned. “Stay where I can see you.”
“I’m not scared,” she’d retorted, snotty eight-year old that she was, though she was shaking in her footy pajamas.
“All kids are scared of the dark,” he’d answered, hefting the boxes of Christmas lights in his arms. “Come on, you don’t need to be nosing around in there. There’s no floor over there, just insulation.”
He’d made her leave the attic first, holding her hand as she stepped down the first few stairs. She’d left, relieved, for she really had been afraid. There had been something…alive about that darkness.
But within that relief was a little bit of disappointment. And frustration. She’d wished that she had been a little bit braver, had explored the attic a little bit deeper, when she’d had a chance.
She wished she had stepped out of the circle of light.
It’s not every day a second chance comes around.
She opened the door again. There it was, the throbbing square of darkness. The light didn’t pierce it. Instead, the darkness seemed to seep out, ever so slightly, tainting the light.
She didn’t own a flashlight, something she’d have to do something about. But this was just the wall that led to the next apartment over. How thick were the walls? One foot? Two? They couldn’t be that thick, considering that she could usually tell what television program her next-door neighbors were watching if she listened.
Well, she could use her arm to measure. Feeling brave -- which was ridiculous, because she was already twenty-two and being brave implied there was something to fear in the first place -- she reached out her hand to touch the darkness.
From the darkness, a hand reached out and grabbed her. She was too startled to scream, too startled to fight, until her whole body had been pulled through the door.
From the darkness nothing emerged except a few thuds and thumps that seemed to come from miles away. After a few moments, even these muffled sounds ceased.
An object flew from the darkness and landed on the carpet. The door closed and the bookshelf swung back into place in front of it.
A notebook full of handwritten poems lay discarded in the center of the living room floor.
© 2007 Saki Channing
Bio: Saki Channing was a student of Political Science and Asian Studies in New Orleans, fortunately graduating before the Hurricane Katrina Urban Renewal Program. She currently resides in Japan, where the joys of living in her new (presumably tiny -- Japanese real estate prices being what they are) apartment provided inspiration for this story. (At least in Japan, the ramen noodles are presumably fresher...) Her story Heart's Desire appeared in the August/September 2006 edition of Aphelion.
E-mail: Saki Channing
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