28 Mar The House Without Doors
“The House Without Doors”Written by Brandon Faircloth Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 18 minutes
When I was thirteen, I abandoned my best friend.
It wasn’t intentional, not really. I’d been the one that had been sure of what we had to do—telling our parents, convincing them to tell the police, and promising Virginia what no matter what, when it came down to it, I’d be there with her until the end. And then the end came and…I wasn’t.
We’d known for months that there was something wrong going on out at the R.V. park on the edge of town, or to be more accurate, going on beneath the park. Since the start of that summer, we’d been riding out and spying on the place and the man that ran it—Remy LaMark, a low-level crook and dealer that had amassed a small fortune preying on those without anywhere else to go.
Or so everyone in town thought. As me and Virginia had discovered, he was connected to very rich and powerful people—people that would roll up some evenings in cars that cost more than our houses and fawn over the fat, greasy-haired landlord as he smirked and beckoned for them to follow him down the hill to the subterranean entrance he’d carved into the rock some twenty years before. Everyone assumed that was where he stored his drugs, but it was all just rumor and gossip, as no one from the town had ever been inside.
At least no one that was ever heard from again.
That was what had gotten us interested in the first place. Charlie, one of our friends in class, had lived at the trailer park, and right after school let out for the summer he’d tracked us down at Virginia’s, his hands shaking and his face paler than usual. He told us he’d snuck inside that place two nights before. That it was awful down there—bigger than you’d believe and dark as pitch without a light. But darker was still better, he said, because when he’d turned on his flashlight he’d seen terrible things. Old bloodstains and scraps of meat and broken bone. Strange symbols and statutes that were unfamiliar and yet still made him feel sick inside just to look at them. It was an evil place, and he was scared to live on top of it, but that wasn’t why he was telling us about it. What had him so eaten up with worry and fear.
No, that was because he thought Remy had seen him when Charlie was running away.
We half thought he was pulling our leg, but even after he was gone, warning us to play it cool for now, but to tell someone if he went missing, I could tell Virginia was as captivated by the mystery and danger of it all as I was. It was like something out of a movie or book—a great evil discovered by children in a sleepy small town—some serial killer or devil-worshipper that could only be stopped by the tenacious purity and heroism of some young adventurers.
Except it didn’t work out quite that way. Charlie went missing a couple of days later, and we did tell my mom and Virginia’s parents about it. They didn’t believe us at first, but we eventually convinced them that we believed Charlie enough that they called the sheriff’s office and gave them a summary of what the missing boy had told their children. My mom was told it probably wouldn’t be enough for a search warrant given the source was so young and not available for questioning, but they would definitely go by and talk to LaMark again.
Maybe they did. All we knew was that nothing happened—Charlie wasn’t found and no one was arrested, and it wasn’t long before most of the town seemed to have forgotten about our friend. Because Charlie was just the first of the people to go missing that summer.
By July, Virginia and I were focused on little else. The four other people had no direct ties to the park, but we’d started staking out LaMark when we could, and we’d already seen the conspicuous traffic of fancy people going down into whatever hell the man had constructed down there. And it didn’t seem like these were more victims, as on more than one occasion we stayed long enough to see the same people leave again a few hours later.
No, it seemed that these people were part of something with Remy LaMark—a cult or something else that was using that underground bunker for torture or murder or black magic rituals, or perhaps all three. We never saw any of the other missing people, but by the first of August, we were sure he was behind it all and that something needed to be done.
It was me that decided we needed to make up a lie.
Only one of the other victims had been a child—Pricilla Jaspers, a ten-year-old girl that neither of us knew beyond knowing what she looked like. We had no real evidence of what had happened to her, but I’d overheard enough from my mom talking on the phone to know that her parents were raising a big stink that more wasn’t being done to find their little girl. If Virginia and I went to our parents and told them that we’d gotten into the place underneath the trailer park and found signs that the girl had been there—photos maybe, or something else that would tie LaMark to her disappearance, then the police would have to go look.
Virginia was nervous about it from the start. She never lied to her parents, and the idea of getting caught at it or being in bad trouble terrified her. It took a few days to convince her we were doing the right thing, and then we had to plan how we could convince them.
We decided to tell our parents at the same time one Sunday afternoon. Virginia would do it on the way back from her church’s picnic, and I’d tell my mom when she got home from work. We’d tell them they could check with Virginia and me for proof that we’d seen what we were telling them, and even if they didn’t believe us a hundred percent, it should be enough to get them moving.
I was going to tell my mom; I swear I was. But then she came in all mad and upset—she’d gotten a call from Virginia’s parents an hour earlier. They were at the sheriff’s office, and deputies were on their way to get a search warrant for the trailer park. Apparently, Virginia had been very convincing, and by the time she got in and started questioning me, the phone was ringing again. It was Virginia’s mother. They’d gotten into the bunker and found the scattered remains of three of the missing people, including parts of Pricilla Jaspers.
She didn’t tell me all of that, but I could hear Virginia’s mother over the phone, her voice high and trembling as she asked my mom what I was saying about it. Lips pressed thin and pale, she hung up and turned toward me, asking if I’d gone with Virginia into that torture chamber. And I wavered for a moment between my loyalty to Virginia and my own worries and fears. I could tell that my mom didn’t want it to be true. Didn’t want me to have a connection to the horror that was unfolding out there and didn’t have the energy to deal with the complications it would bring. And what did it matter now, really? The police had found out without me lying about what I’d seen. What was the point of adding to it now? My stomach felt knotted with guilt, but that was just nerves, and I needed to be smart about it. No need for both Virginia and me to risk the trouble and hassle that might come from lying, and Mom was still staring at me, waiting for an answer, a confirmation that this wasn’t *her* problem, and so…
So I told the truth, and in the end, it didn’t matter. No one ever knew she was lying, and they found Remy hanging in his closet later that same evening. There was never any question that he was behind the abductions and murders, and Virginia actually became a bit of a local celebrity for bringing an end to one of the worst periods in the town’s history.
That didn’t matter either, though. Things were never the same between Virginia and me. We still hung out from time to time, and after I apologized for bailing and leaving her holding the bag, she never said anything else about it. But that betrayal still sat between us now, an uninvited third-wheel that would never give us time alone together or oxygen enough for things to heal. When she moved away the next year, I hated myself that as much as I missed her, the thing I felt most was relief at no longer having a daily reminder that I wasn’t quite the person I thought I was or wanted to be.
* * * * * *
I’ve spent years trying to forget all of that and move on. I went on to become a psychologist and a counselor—I help a lot of people. And in both my professional and private life, I try to be honest and courageous, both for my own sake and for the girl I let down those many years ago. And it does help, if only a little, as though I’m treading just enough water to not drown.
And then last month I got a letter from outside of Red Branch, Oregon. It was Virginia, writing me after all this time to see how I was and to invite me to come visit when I was able. My hands trembled as I reread the letter, tears springing to the corners of my eyes. I didn’t have a number or email address, so I wrote back instead, sending the letter next day delivery and giving Virginia all my contact information. Telling her I’d love to come as soon as she would have me. When she emailed back two days later, she said she’d look for me that weekend.
* * * * * *
I spent the flight and drive out to her house vacillating between fear and elation. I hadn’t expected her letter and invitation to have such a profound effect on me after so long, and now that I realized how important mending this friendship was to me, I was terrified of doing something wrong to jeopardize that. I’d already decided that, whatever was said or done this weekend, I would make every effort to show Virginia that I still cared about her deeply and wanted her in my life again.
The thick green of the forest seemed to roll on and on around me—tall, imposing trees that seemed dreamlike in the grey afternoon rain. I almost missed the turnoff to Virginia’s, but the directions were good and I noticed the road at the last second. Another half a mile down a gravel lane and I was at the house. It was an older house, but beautiful too, with a wide front porch and…
There wasn’t a front door. Instead, a flap of clear plastic swayed gently, the bottom of it scritch-scratching back and forth across the threshold. Was she doing renovations or…well, it didn’t matter. I could ask about that when I got inside.
Parking at the end of the lane, I grabbed my bag and headed up to the porch. A woman met me as I reached the plastic tarp, and I tried to hide my expression as I smiled at her. It was Virginia; it had to be her, but she looked so much older. Not thirty-five, but twenty years older than that, if not more. I felt myself hesitate. Maybe this wasn’t her after all? But no, she was greeting me now, giving me a hug and talking like it was her. How was that possible? What had she been through in the last two decades to make her look so…
I blinked and gave an embarrassed nod. “Yeah, yeah. Sorry. It’s just…this is a lot. I didn’t know if I’d ever see you again.”
She lifted up the plastic and gestured for me to go in. “Yeah, I get that.” Virginia let out a croak of a laugh. “Guess I don’t look much like I used to either.”
The inside of the house was neat, if sparsely decorated, but I saw no sign of construction or other work going on. I was staring at the kerosene lamps in the hallway and the living room beyond when I registered her last comment. I turned to give her a smile I hoped didn’t look forced. “No, you look good. And we’ve all aged, right?”
Virginia studied me, her eyes heavily-lidded. “I guess so, though you don’t look that different. Other than the beard, that is.” She gestured to my bag. “You can set that down for now. I’ll get you set up in one of the rooms upstairs later on. Come on in and take a load off.”
I did as she asked, following her into the shadowy living room and sitting down on the sofa. Suppressing a shiver, I looked around. Everything was very clean and well-maintained, and while the house was a little run-down, it didn’t look like it was in bad shape overall. Still, it was freezing. Even with the front door off, I’d think the heat would keep it warmer than this. But it was okay. I just needed to keep an open mind and focus on reconnecting. Rubbing my hands absently, I smiled at Virginia. “So, how’re you doing?”
She shrugged. “I’m decent. Tired, but that’s nothing new. I work from home, but between that and homeschooling my little girl, I’m busy most of the time.”
I swallowed. “You have a girl?”
Virginia nodded. “Yes, she’s six this April. Away with her daddy this weekend, bless her heart. She likes her weekends with him, but she gets homesick so quick.”
“Oh, so she’s with you most of the time?”
Smiling, she picked up a cigarette pack from the table before reconsidering it and tossing it back down. “Yeah, she is. What about you? Got a wife and kids?”
I chuckled and waved my hands. “No, nothing like that. For a long time I was too busy with school, and then I…I don’t know. Maybe I just never met the right person.”
Virginia sniffed lightly. “You know, there was a time when I thought I was in love with you.” Her lips twisted into a smirk. “Puppy dog stuff… We were just kids, you know? But it sure felt real at the time.” Her eyes grew distant. “But then everything kind of went to hell, didn’t it?”
I felt my stomach clench at the bitter sadness in her voice. “Look…That’s part of why I wanted to come. I know I tried to apologize for not backing you up at the time, and I had my reasons and my excuses, but it was still awful. I told you I’d tell on LaMark too, and then I chickened out. I shouldn’t have left you to deal with it alone.”
She looked up toward the ceiling. “I know you’re sorry. I knew you were sorry then. I was pissed at you at first, but not for that long. I got it. We were both scared, and truth be told, I was kinda glad to take the heat for both of us. Felt like I was protecting you or something.”
I frowned at her. “You did? But…I always thought you hated me for it. Everything was always so different after. It got so you barely wanted to be around me at all.”
When she looked back down, her eyes were red-rimmed and she was on the verge of tears. “Like I said. Protecting you.”
I wanted to press further, but I knew better. It had to be her call as to what she told me when. Leaning forward, I reached out and gave her hand a brief squeeze. “I don’t really understand, but I want to. If and when you feel like telling me.”
She snickered slightly as she pulled her hand away. “I can tell you’re a shrink. You talk like one now.”
Offering an awkward smile, I gestured around at the room. “This is a cool house. You said you work from home? Telecommute or something?”
Virginia shook her head slightly. “No, I restore antiques. I don’t have internet out here, and the power is dodgy too.” She gestured at the lantern softly hissing on the table. “That’s why it looks like we’re camping. I had to drive into town just to email you back on my phone.”
“Oh, I get it. Is that what the tarp on the front door is for? Getting some renovations done?”
She let out a short, barking laugh as she leaned forward to stare at me. “Renovations? No, not quite. I just have bad luck keeping power at any place I stay for too long. Renovations aren’t going to fix that.”
I could feel myself frowning, but I didn’t care. What was she talking about? Was she just messing with me? Punishing me by talking weirdly? “I don’t get what you mean.” I pointed back toward the hall. “And what about the front? Why don’t you have a door?”
Virginia grinned at me. “Look around the house, Brad. There’s not a door in the place. Not on the front or the back. Not in a single room or closet in the place. Not even on a kitchen cabinet.” Sitting back, she chuckled to herself. “This house has no doors.”
Clenching my teeth, I stood up and walked back to the hallway before making my way through the entire lower floor. She was telling the truth. Every room was lit by lanterns, and there wasn’t a single door, big or small, visible anywhere. A heavy dread began settling on me as I made my way back to where she waited in the living room.
Trying to keep my expression neutral, I sat back down. “Virginia, I don’t understand. Why are you living like this? It’s too cold here for no heat, and out in the middle of the woods with no doors? My God, you could have anything or anyone coming in here with you. With your little girl…I…”
Her eyes narrowed as she cut me off. “You leave her out of this. She’s none of your business. And believe me, I’m aware of the problems with my current situation. I chase out rats and snakes more than I’d like, but at least we’re safe from worse things.”
I raised my eyebrows. “What worse things?”
She eyed the cigarette pack on the table again, and when she picked it up this time, she dumped one out and lit it. The orange ember trembled slightly as she took a drag. “My parents are dead, you know.”
I blinked at the sudden change of topic. “Um, I didn’t know, no. I’m so sorry. Did it happen recently?”
Shrugging, she took another puff. “No, back then. Dad got it just a few weeks after you moved away. I’d started figuring out what was going on by then, but it didn’t matter. Even when I told Mama, she didn’t believe me. Thought it was just me being weird after everything I’d seen.” She snickered. “Or what I told them I’d seen.” Her gaze flicked back to mine, hard and unreadable. “She got it a couple of years later.”
I shook my head slightly. “You keep saying ‘got it.’ If you don’t mind me asking, how did they die?”
Looking up at the ceiling again, she sat silent for long enough I began to think she wasn’t going to respond at all. When she did, it was to jump again in a new direction. “You know how we talked that summer? About what LaMark and those people were doing down in that place he’d made?”
Swallowing, I nodded. “Yeah. I’ve always figured they were part of some cult or something. Did they ever catch anybody?”
Virginia shook her head. “Nope. They were either too smart or too powerful to get caught. But they’re not that important. What they were doing is the thing.”
I could tell this was all stuff she’d prepared to tell me ahead of time. An internal script probably born out of some need for resolution or possibly anger and resentment for what I’d done. I wanted to hear what she had to say, but I also didn’t want her to get such momentum that she got lost in those negative emotions. Whatever her problems, I wanted to help her with them and truly be her friend again. To do that, she needed to talk to me, not just at me. So instead of asking what she wanted, I’d ask something slightly different. Make her stop a second and think about what she was saying.
“How did you find out what they were doing?”
Blinking, she studied me a moment before offering a small, sad smile. “The dreams. I started having nightmares a few days after they went into the bunker. At first, it was just terrifying things I didn’t remember. But over time I began to understand more. It was like I was hearing snatches of music from some far-off radio. Eventually, I picked up the tune.” She wiped at her eyes again. “They…they weren’t just killing people. They were sacrificing them. Hurting and killing them to help bring something through. And we got in the middle of that.” Virginia glanced at me. “Or at least I did.”
I went to respond, but when I saw she wasn’t finished, I shut my mouth again. She needed help. Both for her sake and her daughter. But better to hear as much of her delusions upfront so I had a good idea of how bad off she really was.
“I didn’t understand about the doors until it got Dad. After that, I pitched such a fit that Mama got rid of most of our doors—we had storm doors on the outside, but they were clear. I don’t risk it now that everything is worse, but back then it seemed to be okay.” She shook her head ruefully as she took a shaky drag on her cigarette. “But Mama never got rid of her closet door. For whatever reason, she refused. Maybe that was her line in the sand after going along with her crazy daughter on so much of it.” Virginia puffed out a breath. “That’s what got her.”
“Virginia, I don’t under…”
Her eyes cut up to mine. “It can get you through doors. It can’t be out for long because the ritual isn’t complete. I’ve spent years learning more about it, even though I still don’t know much. But I found the ritual, or something like it. It takes eight people. Counting my parents, it’s only up to seven.”
Licking my lips, I decided to push forward, if only gently. “Virginia, I know this may all seem very real to you. But a lot of what you’re saying, it just doesn’t make any kind of rational sense. I don’t claim to know what you’ve been through, but…”
Her face hardened as she stood up. “No, you don’t, do you? You left me, and I let you because I was so afraid of it getting you too.” She waved her hand around. “Do you think I like living like this? Looking crazy? Losing everyone I care about? For a while, I thought it was over. I stopped having the dreams after Mama. I almost tracked you down then, but something told me not to. It was too big of a risk.” She was freely crying now, wiping her eyes with her palms as she took a step back toward the hall. “So I met someone else. Made a life and had a baby. He thought I was crazy with the no-door thing, but he put up with it. For a while, at least.”
It felt like my heart was breaking as she smiled at me again. “But then the dreams started back. And the lights stopped working half the time. He got a bellyful of my crazy, and I barely got to keep custody of my little girl before it was all done.” Virginia stabbed a finger toward me. “All while you, what? Felt a little guilty while becoming a fancy doctor or whatever?”
Standing up, I started forward. “Virginia, I’m sorry. I am guilty, and I do care about you. I just think if we start identifying the real problems here…”
I stopped, raising an eyebrow. “What?”
Her lip curled up as she glared at me. “You heard me. Get out.” Running a hand through her hair, she turned away. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when I saw you. I…I wanted things to be different. But I see it now. I think I always saw it.”
Taking a deep breath, I walked to her and gently put my hand on her shoulder. “Please, let me stay and let’s talk. I really do want to help.”
Her shoulders tensed and then fell, as though bowed by some enormous weight only she could see or understand. “Didn’t you ever wonder how Charlie would have found that place?”
She didn’t turn around, and her voice was just barely above a whisper. “Remy LaMark was a creep, but he wasn’t an idiot. He’d done too much for too long without getting caught. And he, what, just leaves his torture chamber unlocked for Charlie to wander into?”
I dropped my hand from her shoulder as a chill slid up my spine. “What’re you saying?”
She turned to look up at me, her face pale and drawn. “I’m saying, I don’t think we stopped anything. I think this was always how it was going to be.” Looking down, she swallowed and took a step back. “I’m sorry. Please leave now.”
I fought the urge to try again, but instead I let the moment of terrible silence spool out between us, the thread of too many years and too much pain. I wasn‘t giving up on helping her or mending things between us, but I had to do it on her timetable and respecting her feelings and wishes. For the time being, I needed to leave her alone.
* * * * * *
So I flew back home, wondering at every step if I was making the wrong choice, the easy choice, the coward’s choice, again. But no. I wasn’t going to let this go. It may take me months or even years, but I was going to find a way to help her and be part of Virginia’s life again.
The next few days were hard, and when I got home from work tonight and saw my phone lighting up with an Oregon number, I was torn between excitement that it was her and terror it was someone else saying something had happened to her or her daughter. Hearing Virginia’s voice, my vision blurred a little as I gave a relieved laugh.
“Hey! I’m so…I’m so glad you called. How are you doing?”
“Um, I’m doing decent. I…I shouldn’t be calling, but I can’t help it. I don’t think it’ll make a difference, and I need you to know.”
“Oh…Okay. What’s up?”
“The thing they were trying to bring over. The thing that is coming through. It can’t take just anybody. Only those that are involved in the ritual.”
I held my breath. I’d hoped she was past talking like that, but at least she was talking to me at all. “Okay. You mean like the people they sacrificed?”
“Yeah, that. But not just that. It can take people performing the ritual too. Or people that become a part of it through some other means.”
Her voice was thick with emotion. “Like lying to your parents. Or believing your little girl when she says she and her best friend have been inside that place.”
“So you think you’re part of the ritual now too? And your parents died because of that? What about the police? Have the cops that went in there been ‘gotten’ too?”
“Deputies, and no. I checked. One died of a heart attack a few years ago, but the rest are all alive so far as I can tell. I think it got my parents because they were my family. Or maybe because they carried my lie to the people that searched. I don’t have all the answers. But it’s been after me for a long time now. Made me a prisoner for most of my life, always terrified it would get me or my little girl, or…someone else I love.”
Puffing out a breath, I gripped the phone tighter. “It’s going to be okay, Virginia. I’m going to help you with this, I swear. I’m going to help you get your life back and feel safe again, okay?”
I could barely hear Virginia as she sighed her words into the phone. “I know you will. You already have.”
“I have? How?”
“This thing, it’s been around the whole time. Just watching and waiting for another chance to push through. Watching and listening. So the other day, right after you were gone, I told it. I told it that you were the one really responsible for the ritual getting interrupted. Whether it was part of its plan or not, I’d only gone to my parents because of you.”
I glanced up as the light in the corner of the room flickered feebly and then went out. My mouth went dry. “So you…you think you sicced this thing on me instead?”
“I don’t know. Part of me hopes not, even though I want my baby to be safe and to have my life back. But I do still love you too. That’s why I called.”
I sat up in my chair, glancing around the room. Nothing out of place, and the overhead lights were fine. Not even any doors other than the closet behind me. I shifted uncomfortably as I glanced back at the closed door.
“Why now? Why not tell me right after you did it?”
I could hear her crying now, but her voice was steady when she answered a moment later. “Because I’m calling from the house. The lights came back on a few minutes ago.”
I dropped the phone as the room plunged into darkness. I could hear Virginia yelling, but I didn’t have time to search or even answer her. I needed to get out before…
I froze at a new sound behind me.
The creaking of the closet door as it opened.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available