The door is not there.
Everything else is the same. It’s not a dream. Time keeps moving by in the right way, my watch shows its relentless progression. The bus stop was right, the street is right, the building is just the same. The stairs lead to the right place, the elevator does too.
The right name is on the mailbox. My key opened it.
The ATM gave me my money, I asked for the usual and the deli man sliced and wrapped it and handed it over the counter with his usual smile. Everything about this day has been the same except the door is not there.
Lights are on at my windows; I went up and down, checking, over and over, because after trying everything else I could, I could think of nothing else to do.
The hallway is the same, familiar names on everyone else’s door; I recognize my neighbors and they recognize me and greet me by my own name. They are completely themselves. They go in or out of their own doors unexceptionally.
It’s only at my place that the door is not there.
When I lean against that wall, calling from my phone, I can hear ringing on the other side. I hear the expected sounds of movement and play, my children’s voices, and I can hear the ringing of the phone in my hand calling the phone inside. None of the voices inside answer it. The machine comes on, the message is the right message, but after the beep my voice doesn’t record.
I kept trying till my battery died.
I attempted to go up the fire escape outside the windows to my home but the end hanging down is just barely out of reach. I can’t make myself go to the super and tell him my door is not there and I need to go up that way. I can’t make myself shout up to the windows from the street.
So I keep going up and down, seeing more people I know who know me, who use my right name and who speak in perfectly normal voices and with perfectly normal expressions, and the time is changing perfectly normally on my watch, time is certainly going by in a perfectly normal way. The evening is gone, night is falling, the streetlights have come on. The ice cream in my bag has melted. I’ve been needing a toilet for the last hour and want to use my own, not many feet away on the other side of this wall.
I’m not hungry but I’d be grateful for what kind people always offer in fiction–a mug of hot strong tea. Any of my neighbors would make that for me but first I’d have to tell them that at my place, there is no door.
Not today, nor any day that I can remember, did I say or do or think anything to engender cosmic justice so inexplicably cruel. I don’t know how I triggered this tripwire of fate.
This is undeniably my real and actual uncounterfeited and waking life, and I’m locked out of the only part that matters.
The door is there. My key fits as always and turns in the lock as it should.
Just a terrible waking nightmare too little sleep gives you. That’s all.
The lightswitch is not there. I hardly noticed, so tired and glad to get in. I put down my bags and kicked off my shoes as always and shut the door behind me.
The quiet inside is profound, despite the fridge’s hum and the beeping of that damned answering machine.
The closet to my left is there, its doorknob turns and the hanger is there for my coat.
No light comes in from the street; I suspect the windows are all not there.
I feel my way to my children’s room. There’s the door and it opens as it should.
The space inside sounds as empty as an elevator shaft with its car anywhere but here. I know there’s nothing there.
The only stench of fear is my own. I’m terrified of heights and any illusion of emptiness. I can’t even walk out onto a good solid pier, if it’s faced on more than one side by water, without my knees shaking.
I’m starting, now, to feel a little angry. I have never unwished my children, never for one moment even in the grip of any human emotion wondered or thought what if. They are each one and all of my ifs.
I close the door because my children are not there and I know I’m not closing it on them. I feel my way back to the foyer, with the carpet solid under my feet, and I feel for the doorknob on the entryway door. It opens and I look out on the brightly-lit hallway, and a neighbor just back from work says hi as he opens his door. I wave and retreat into my own home and close the door behind me.
I see now, that whoever you are wants me to prove my love, leap into the void and rescue my children and demonstrate my worthiness to get them back.
But I think that wherever they are, they’re okay. I don’t think you’re testing them. Whatever infernal minder you’ve given them over to will have a real run for the money. My kids have never suffered fools gladly.
I can do without that tea. The kitchen is there all right. But I’m really not thirsty now.
You’ve got all the time in the world, to see how this goes?
Sarah Crysl Akhtar’s shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes that impel her to make much from little. So of course she writes flash fiction, cultivates orchards on her windowsill and bakes fabulous shortbread. Her son gives her what’s immeasurable — the best of all possible worlds. (Less miraculous fruit of her labors has appeared on Every Day Fiction, Perihelion SF Magazine, 365tomorrows, Flash Fiction Online and 101 Word Stories; her posts on the craft of writing — including reviews of stories selected “From the EDF Archives” — have been featured on Flash Fiction Chronicles.) She enjoys regular visits from her dead cat.