The Call Is Coming From Inside the Building
1012 words long
Like the wise man said, "Wherever you go, there you are."
Notes from the author:
Achievement, realization of goals through skill and work. Success. What does that look like for you?
It’s an important question. Without a clear destination in mind, it’s impossible to draw a road map. This is why many self-help books ask you to describe a day in the life of future, successful you.
Future, successful me looks a lot like current, aspirational me, in that I’d be spending my work days writing, but with the writing more regularly producing support for the household. There’d be a longer list of Works Published on my website. And the writing every day would be an easy, enjoyable process--I won’t say effortless, because you don’t get better at your craft without expending effort, but it would be an effort I’d look forward to making day by day. That’s how I envision success.
Completely absent from that picture is fame. Certainly I hope to earn a widespread brand recognition where readers associate my name with darn good stories and keep their eyes peeled for more of them. But those authors whose fans mob them whenever they show up at conventions and signings? I don’t envy them that in the least. I don’t know how they handle it. I think I’d just run away.
The house existed in a neighborhood that did not. It had no known address, no GPS coordinates. You couldn’t send a letter to its single inhabitant; the post office wouldn’t know what to do with it. And yet someone had found their way to the door and was ringing the doorbell repeatedly.
“All right, all right, keep your shirt on, I’m coming.” The man who lived there hurried down the stairs while struggling to pull his own shirt down over his head. He tended to regard clothing as optional these days, but grudgingly conceded that it was a requirement for answering the door. Probably. He hadn’t answered the door for the better part of five years. He was trying not to think about what it meant that he was called to do so now.
As his head at last popped free of the T-shirt collar and his feet found the tile at the bottom of the stairs, the doorbell sounded again. And again. “I said, I’m coming,” the man shouted.
It occurred to him that it was strange to have a doorbell at all, when the whole point of the endeavor was that no one should ever use the blasted thing. He hadn’t even known there was a doorbell until this morning’s impossible imbecile started leaning on it. Perhaps that was just the platonic shape of HOUSE to him: Windows that opened, curtains that could be drawn, a fireplace whose smoke always went up the chimney, a kitchen in which everything functioned, a refrigerator that was always full, bed sheets that never fell off the bed no matter how long you stayed in it nor how much tossing and turning you did, and a front door with a doorbell that went Ding, dong.
That he tossed and turned in bed was not a topic he intended to explore. He was similarly loathe to consider the implications of his having imagined a doorbell in the first place. It was ridiculous to think that maybe, on some unconscious level, he’d actually wanted visitors.
He had a good imagination, uncannily so. The things he imagined tended to become real. He imagined stories, and those stories went on to live in other people’s heads. He imagined himself a career, and the world responded by making him a celebrity. Then, when, as celebrities sometimes do, he found the limelight too hot to handle, he imagined himself an escape. He imagined himself a comfortable life in comforting isolation. He imagined a house like a castle in the clouds, and it had become real, and he’d moved in. Since then he’d lived blissfully untouched by phone calls, cameras, journalists, and unsolicited visitors--until now.
He retrieved his jeans from the back of the couch and hopped into them on his way to the door. Another few steps found him his house slippers. He liked wearing house slippers; they symbolized everything he loved about his life. In house slippers, he shuffled contentedly through unscheduled days, obeying no dress code nor time clock but his own. But he didn’t strictly need them. The floors of his ideal house were never cold. But as he approached the door, he felt a creeping chill steal over him.
The incessant Ding, Dong was now accompanied by a violent pounding on the door. He’d only heard pounding like that once before. He hadn’t opened the door then, nor even put his eye to the peephole. Instead he’d called the police. Could he call them now? Why, so can I, or so can any man, he thought inanely, but will they come when you do call for them? He would have said they would not, but then, he would have said no visitor could find his door. He would have said he had no fear of an attacker breaking down that door, as he’d imagined it utterly impregnable, but then, he would have said no attacker could find it...
“Enough already,” he growled, to the pounding and the ringing and the doubts and the fears. He wrenched the deadbolt around and yanked the door open--
And no one was there.
He stood, dumbfounded, trembling with relief and leftover adrenaline. Of course no one was there. No one was ever supposed to be there. His solitude could not be breached. He lived at no known address.
He looked down. There was a doormat upon the step, as useless to his purposes as the doorbell. It said, in cheerful bright letters, GO AWAY. Lying on the doormat, obscuring the first A and the W, was an envelope. And on the envelope, neither handwritten nor computer-printed but rather typewritten, and on a typewriter that could have used a tune-up, was his name.
You don’t have to pick it up, he told himself. You don’t have to read it. But he had already opened the door.
He closed it behind him and sat down on the step. Then he opened the letter.
As he read it, it dissolved in his hands, its message delivered. It had not been sent. It had been imagined, just like his house, just like the contents of his refrigerator. But what he imagined had a tendency to become real: the letter, the ringing of the bell, the pounding on the door, the door itself, the whole house. Real for as long as it was needed.
The letter had been typewritten on the same shaky machine that had addressed the envelope. The “e” was always a couple millimeters too high; the “t” rode just a touch too low. The “o” was missing part of its bottom quadrant. He never knew exactly how the type had got eroded like that; it was a second-hand typewriter, or possibly third-hand. Irregularities aside, he’d written stories on it for years. The first one he sold for publication had come off that platen. So had this letter.
It said, “You’re strong enough now. And you’re needed. It’s time you returned.”
It wasn’t signed. It didn’t need to be.
Behind him, his house was beginning to unravel.
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