The Cabinet of Curiosities
Jar of eyes

The Other Side of the Door

Summer camp, and me and Matías are walking down to the lake for kayaks, which we don’t like that much. Everyone else is already down there. So when we come to that fork in the path, where you go to the right to get to the lake, we didn’t exactly decide or talk about it, but we just took the left fork instead.

He’s a cool guy, Matías is. We like a lot of the same stuff. He’s like my best friend at camp.

He might sort of be my best friend of anywhere.

blue doorSo down the left path. And at first I don’t notice, ‘cause me and Mat are talking, but after a while what he’s saying sort of fades out, and I notice how on this path the woods keep getting denser, and the dead leaves under our feet get darker and softer, and you can’t hear the lake at all anymore. You can’t hear hardly anything at all, even the birds are quiet.

The path stops at this clearing, like that’s the place the path was taking us to.

And in the middle of the clearing is a door.

This door is just standing there, surrounded by trees, inside a wooden door frame. It’s painted dark blue, like the darkest midnight blue, and the paint looks old, all cracked and peeling. It has a regular doorknob, brass or whatever.

I mean, it’s just a door. A door in the middle of the forest. At first we just stand there, like: What?

Then Mat starts laughing, like this is the most hilarious thing he’s ever seen. I sort of see why he’s laughing, it is pretty funny—I mean who brought a door out here? or did there used to be a house, and now a door is all that’s left? But for some reason I don’t feel exactly like laughing. I keep noticing all the quiet.

Mat walks up to the door. I say, “Hey, man, maybe you shouldn’t . .” and he stops and looks back at me, smiling, like, “Shouldn’t what?” And I can’t think of what I was going to say, can’t think of a good reason not to touch the door. It’s so weirdly quiet here isn’t a good reason.

Mat picks up a stick like it’s a briefcase. He puts his hand on the doorknob and looks back at me, saying in this fake deep, jolly voice: “Well, goodbye kids, I’m off to the forest office! Forest pizza for dinner tonight!” And he opens the door, still looking at me, and walks through.

I wait for him to come back around from the other side. But he doesn’t. So I guess he’s hiding on the other side, for a joke? and I walk around back there.

And he’s not there.

I look around to see if he’s hiding in the woods. But the bushes and trees are so thick, no way he could have got in there without me hearing him in all this quiet.

I run back around to the other side of the door. I call his name, I yell, “Mat! Matías!” over and over.
Nothing happens except quiet. He’s just gone, Mat’s just gone.

I walk up to the door and put my hand on the knob. Then I put my hand down, because I don’t have to do this, some grownup should do this. I run as fast as I can back up the path, back through the woods, to tell the counselors that Mat disappeared.

But when I get back to camp, all out of breath, before I even get to the counselors’ cabin, I see him. I see Matías. It’s from the back, but he’s the only one at camp with an Astros T-shirt. And I’m so relieved, it feels like I’m standing in a shower of relief and it’s pouring right down from my head to my feet. It was just a crazy Mat joke after all. I run up to him, yelling, “Mat! Hey Mat, I can’t believe you got here before me! You really . . .” And I stop.

Because when he turns around, it’s not Mat. It looks like Mat—same thick black hair that kind of sticks out at the top of his head, same brown eyes, same one ear bigger than the other.

But it’s not Mat, no way it’s Mat. Because the dark eyes are cold and empty, and he isn’t slightly smiling on one side of his face like Mat always is. He isn’t smiling at all. He isn’t even standing right—Mat’s fidgety, he’s always moving around and drumming his fingers or practicing soccer kicks. This boy is standing totally still.

Then he blinks his cold, empty eyes at me one time, and gives a tiny, cold smile. He puts one finger to his lips, and says, “Shhhhhhh.”

All the skin on my arms raises up in little bumps of fear, and I turn around and run. I hear Al the main counselor yelling my name and saying something about “dinner” and “dark soon,” but I don’t stop.

At first I don’t know where I’m running, I’m just running from the thing-not-Mat, which is the creepiest thing I ever saw. But then I know I’m running to the door.

When I get there it isn’t dark yet, but the light is all strange and clear so you know it will be dusk soon, and then dark.

I walk right up to the door and put my hand on the knob.

And then I stop, because: What if?

What if it sucks me in to wherever it took Matías?

What if there’s something waiting on the other side?

Then I remember the creepy thing that isn’t Mat, and I put one hand onto the door frame, holding on just in case, and open the door.

I am looking at a garden, crammed with flowers, dusty blues and bright-fire reds, sunny yellows. A path leads through the flowers to a blue-white sky. I can smell the green and the sweetness from here. I want to go there so bad, I feel my leg sort of pulling up on its own, like it’s going to take a step in.

Is this where Mat is? I don’t see him, but . . . I lean in.

And just as I’m about to really step in, because it looks so beautiful and peaceful there, so much better than this hot, cruddy camp or my shout-y house, I slam the door shut.

I lean my head on the door for a second. I don’t want to open the door again.

But I gotta find Mat. Maybe I could at least call out for him, in case he’s wandering down that path somehow, in case he can hear me.

I open the door again.

But now what I see behind the door is totally different. There’s no garden at all. Now where I’m looking, it’s deep under the ocean, the water hazy and blackish-green. I could reach out one finger and touch the ocean, it goes right up against the doorway and stops. I can smell the salt and fish and underwater snmells.

On the floor of the ocean is the skeleton of a whale. A million little plants are growing up inside and around it, winding around the bones, waving gently in the water, and fishes swim around and inside the plants and the bones. A whole little world in this whale skeleton, far under the sea. I say “Mat,” in a small voice. But if he’s in this place, he can’t hear me.

I remember Mat wasn’t looking, when he walked through this door. He was looking at me, to see me laugh at his joke. He might have walked into anything at all.

I shut the door, and open it again.

This time I see a dark house, cluttered with old and dusty things, broken clocks and fat brown books and thick blood-colored carpets and unlit lamps, and tons more. The only bright part is a window all covered with ice making crystal patterns like frozen snowflakes on the glass.

“Mat?” I say. But the place is all dusty and silent, like no one’s been there in a million years.

I close the door and open it again. I do that over and over, and the door always shows me someplace new. In every place, I call “Mat! Matías!” In every place, he doesn’t answer.

I open the door to a city street drowning in a river of flood water. A wave crashes over the sign on a Chinese restaurant.

I open the door to a gray field, and in the center of the field one tree, with leaves made of smoke that wavers and breathes.

I open the door to a sky blood-red with streaming birds.

I open the door to a dirty alley far below, and two girls in coats, fighting. I hear their tiny angry cries. When I yell “Mat!” one of the girls looks up.

I open the door to 17 butterflies feeding on a dead dog.

Some of the things I see are so beautiful, and some are so horrible. The worst is when I open the door and the whole doorframe is filled up with this big man, with thinning hair and his sleeves rolled up, and he’s looking right at me with an ugly smile. I slammed the door on that man so fast. I didn’t even call for Mat.

The sky is losing color and the light is going away. It’s going to be so dark on that path going back to camp, but I can’t leave Mat wherever he is, and I can’t go back to face that thing that isn’t Mat.

So I open the door one more time.

This time I see a forest clearing, where it’s almost dark. “Mat!” I call. My voice is weak, because I’m tired of calling, and I’m afraid.

But something I didn’t see before, this dark blue curled-up thing under one of the trees, it stirs, it sits up.
And it’s Mat.

“Mat!” I yell. He starts stumbling toward me, calling my name. I realize that he can’t see me. I start talking so he can follow my voice, just saying anything, stuff like “You got this Mat, come on man, you’re almost home, this way,” like that.

Mat’s getting closer—he’s almost here. I hold on tight to the door frame, just in case, and put my other hand through. Mat must see my hand, because his eyes get big and scared.

“It’s me! Just grab my hand!” I say. “I’ll pull you through!”

He grabs my hand. But just at the same time, I feel someone yank my other hand off the door frame and hold it tight. I turn around, and it’s the other kid, the one who looks like Mat, but he’s not. The not-Mat’s mouth is twisted in anger but his eyes are the same cold and empty they were before.

Mat and the not-Mat are pulling hard on my hands, I feel like they’re puling me apart, my arms are stretched out all the way. I pull as hard as I can, I pull both of them close, and pulling them in spins me. I am spinning, turning in this threshold, Mat in one hand, not-Mat on the other. I have to save one, and I have to let go of one, and I have to make sure I stay on the right side of the door.

Finally I open my right hand and shove that boy through the door, and I pull hard with my left hand and don’t let go. I slam the door shut.

There’s a dark head on the ground next to me, where he fell. “Look at me!” I yell. Because I don’t know if I got the right one.

When he looks up, I know right away it’s Mat. I can see him in there, no question, there inside his startled eyes.

We walk back to the camp hardly talking at all, but I’m so happy, so happy and relieved. I run up to Jim and say “Did we miss dinner? Can we eat anyway? because we’re starving and we had this crazy . . . “

Then I stop.

Because when Jim turns to me, it’s Jim’s goofy long face, and Jim’s pale blue eyes. But the eyes are cold as ice and empty. There’s no Jim inside them.

I hear Mat call my name, sounding scared. I turn around.

A bunch of the guys from our cabin are standing in a circle around him. Their empty eyes are like little buttons of black ice, and their faces aren’t happy or mad or anything at all, only unsmiling and cold.

I wonder if my face looks as scared and my eyes look as big as Mat’s.

Now it’s the next morning, and me and Mat are waiting outside the bunk cabin with our bags, because they’re sending us home.

“We’re on the wrong side,” whispers Mat.

“I know,” I say.

“If we could make it to the door . . .” he says.

But Jim is standing over us, the same way he’s been all night.

A car pulls up, and my parents get out. Only it’s not my parents. I sort of knew it wouldn’t be, but I was sort of hoping anyway. Seeing cold horrible empty things that look like Mom and Dad, but are not my mom and dad—it’s the worst thing in the world to see.

“You won’t be seeing Matías again, so say goodbye now,” not-my-dad says, as he takes me by one arm to the shiny car.

I’m sitting in the back. I look at Mat through the window while it rolls up automatically. I think we’re both slight;y crying. I say with my mouth, but not out loud, “goodbye, goodbye.”

The car drives away, and Mat gets smaller and smaller, until he’s gone completely, and I’m alone.

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