by Bill Mullis
His footfalls echo hollow in the empty space. It looks bigger inside, now that it isn't so crowded. Most everybody has already packed up and left, cleared out their lockers, had their mail forwarded. The desks are bare like the hardwood floor. This has been a working space, things have been created, lives have been changed, the world made a little better.
Looking back, he sees that the door he entered through is now closed, locked, vanished, gone. He smiles a little at how fitting it is. You think you can just stick your head in a door, pop in for just a bit, visit for a while. But you find, eventually, that you can never go out the same way you came in. Because while you were inside, the world outside has changed, blatantly or subtly; or, perhaps, it's you who have changed, subtly or blatantly. But the changes are there, and the way back is gone forever.
Still, he can close his eyes and hear their voices murmuring in the air. There's still laughter, and bickering, a few tears when sadness or joy was shared. And the frustration when the words just wouldn't come out right, when the deadline loomed and the world was insistently butting its nose in. He can walk along the row of desks and feel the spirit still inhabiting the space.
And there they'll be forever, he says to himself. They'll all be gone, like he'll be gone, all gone to other things, to other words, other spaces, but they'll always be here, too. Even when the works are no longer plastered in the storefront window, they'll be here. Even when the storefront isn't here any longer.
Well. Time to go.
They say that when one door closes another opens. That's only partly true. There's never just the one door, and it's never open when you find it. So he walks the length of the room, past the desks, the coffee maker, the chocolate fountain, further back than he's been before, and sees the doors, featureless, set off only by exit signs. He doesn't bother to count them; odds are the number would change every time he tried. They're all identical, but the ritual has to be observed. He passes before each of them, brushing his fingertips against the dark, polished wood, and isn't surprised to feel only that there is in fact something on the other side.
He adjusts his hat and slings the backpack over his shoulder. He raises his cane, pokes it at a random door, and starts to laugh.
Of course. The door he picks wasn't isn't the door he intended. And he's fairly certain it wasn't there a moment ago. And though he has no reason to think so, it's obviously the exact right door.
One last look around, to imprint it on his memory. One last nod to the ghosts of the living. And he turns his back on the room and opens the door. And smiles.
Bill Mullis's own personal door is in the South Carolina Upstate. His online presence is currently limited, but you can reach him at www.facebook.com/bill.mullis or via email at kodbill[at]gmail.com.