THE SPACE BETWEEN THINGS


by


Ric Rodriguez




            Jason was discharged from Overlook Hospital on a rainy Monday afternoon. Claudia met him in the lobby, smiling but not happy. The ride home was tense. Jason knew that she wanted him to be the first to speak, but he was at a loss for words, as he had been since this ordeal had begun three weeks before.

            "Are you going to be able to go back to work next week?" Claudia asked.

            "Sure," Jason replied, lying. He didn't even know if he was ready to go home. He had told everyone who would listen that he was, but he would have told them anything to get out of the psych ward. The truth was that he didn't know what he was ready for, nor where he belonged--home, a hospital, or in a graveyard.

            "I moved things around again," Claudia said.

            "I probably won't even notice," Jason replied. Though they had been renting the house in Montclair for six months, they still hadn't settled on where to put their things. Even Jason, who usually couldn't care less about the placement of furniture, had gotten in on the act. Week after week, they moved things around, only to move them again later. Nothing they tried seemed right. It was as if the house was designed to only accommodate odd-sized furniture.

            After driving in silence for ten minutes, Claudia finally asked, "Do you want to talk about it?"

            "I don't think I can," Jason responded. He could tell that she was angry, and he didn't blame her. This whole thing had been a terrible shock to her. Up until three weeks ago, the two of them had been cruising along. They had been happy with their marriage and their careers, and they had been starting to talk about having children. Then, without warning, Jason had gone off the deep end.

            "It's not me," she half asked, half said.

            "Of course not," Jason replied, but he honestly didn't know.

            "Uh huh," she said.

            "Really," Jason said, but he could tell that it was a lost cause--she no longer believed anything he said. Claudia had been understanding and patient for most of his stay in the hospital. But there was one thing that she couldn’t seem to let go of, and that was the fact that Jason’s “episode” had suddenly come out of nowhere. Each time she brought the subject up, she appeared to be a little more tense. Then–just yesterday–it all came to the surface. She accused him of keeping his emotions from her, of not telling her that he had been approaching the deep end for months--maybe even years--and of keeping her out of the loop of his life. He had denied it all, but she hadn't believed him. Looking at her now, he could see that she still didn’t.

            Jason and Claudia had a quiet dinner. It reminded him of the way things were before, except that now there was this thing hanging in the air. The uneasiness followed them into the bedroom. Jason could tell that there were a thousand thoughts flying through her head--things that she couldn't or wouldn't say. He rolled away from her and pretended to go to sleep. He was wide awake, though, wondering if things would ever be the same again.


* * *

            In the morning, Claudia went off to work and Jason was left behind with this thoughts. He didn't really have to get dressed, but he did so anyway–he didn’t want to look like one of the mental patients he had been trapped with for these last weeks.

            Jason paced the ground floor of the house, trying to put it all together. Like Claudia, he didn’t understand how he had gone from feeling fine to feeling suicidal in a matter of minutes. The doctors had been of little help in the matter; they had offered medications, but no explanations. Jason’s worst fear was that it was some kind of hereditary time bomb left to him by his father.

            The man Jason had always thought of as his father was actually his stepfather. His real father had blown his own head off with a shotgun when Jason was just four. Supposedly, Jason had witnessed the suicide, but he had no recollection of it. In fact, he had no memories of his biological father at all--he only knew him from photographs. For his entire life, Jason had barely given the man a thought. This had changed three weeks ago. Now, he thought of little else.

            Jason suddenly stopped. He realized that he had spent the better part of the morning circling the ground floor of the house, as if in some kind of trance. Over and over again, he had walked from the living room, through the foyer, through the dining room, through the kitchen, then back into the living room.

            "Jason," a voice whispered from somewhere in the front of the house.

            "Who is it?" Jason asked. There was no response. "Claudia?"

            Jason walked around to the foyer. The front door was closed and locked. Jason felt a presence behind him. He spun around. No one was there. Jason let out a nervous laugh, then stopped. Though no one was standing there, he could still feel the presence. Then he noticed something odd: the spaces on this floor of the house didn't seem to add up correctly.

            Jason walked through the living room, then turned left, into the kitchen. He walked through the kitchen, then glanced through the doorway to the dining room on his left. Now he was certain. The dining room and the living room were separated by a wall, but it wasn't the same wall-there seemed to be about ten feet of space between them. He wasn't sure why he hadn't noticed this before.

            "This is strange," Jason said. He circled the ground floor one more time, then determined that the space was as long as it was wide. It was as if there was an extra room on the ground floor--almost perfectly square--but walled off by the other rooms.

            "There has to be an entrance," Jason said. The only door in this center space was the one leading to the closet, opposite the front door. Jason opened it, then moved the jackets and coats out of the way so that he could examine the inside wall. It seemed to be solid and as old as the rest of the house. He checked every corner for seams, but he found none.

            Jason closed the door and backed away from the closet. He stared at the space. He still couldn't believe he hadn't noticed it before. He thought it may have been because many houses have spaces like this--only they were usually occupied by a staircase or closets. In this case, there was nothing there. The stairs that led to the second floor went up from the left side of the foyer, and it looked like the original staircase to Jason.

            Jason walked slowly around the space, carefully examining the walls for some sign of a doorway that had been covered up. He circled the space twice, finding nothing suspicious. He considered tearing down the sheet-rock, but then he imagined the look on Claudia's face when she came home to find him hammering through a wall.

            "Why is this even important?" Jason asked himself. He knew that it really wasn't important--at least not in the grand scheme of things--but for some reason that he didn't quite understand, he had to know what was behind those walls.

            Jason knew that there was no unaccounted-for space upstairs--the second floor was merely three bedrooms, a bathroom and a short hallway--but he wasn't so sure about the basement. He walked into the kitchen. There, a door led to a small hallway which had two doors--one leading to the garage, the other to the basement.

            The basement was composed of the three rooms. The first one, which was at the base of the steps, was large. At the other end of this room were two doorways, spread far apart, that led to two smaller rooms. Jason walked up to the wall between the two doorways. He estimated that if the unaccounted-for space upstairs continued down, then it would be behind this wall and between the two smaller rooms.

            Jason walked to the door on the right. He glanced into the room and saw that it was much smaller than he had expected. The left wall was right next to the doorway. Jason walked to the door on the left, which led to the second of the two smaller rooms. He looked through the doorway. This room was also smaller than it should have been. The space that was upstairs was also down here, between these three rooms.

            "What is this?" Jason asked. He carefully checked the walls of the two smaller rooms, feeling for creases or any other sign of there having been some kind of reconstruction. He found nothing odd. The walls around the space were smooth. Either these were the house's original walls, or someone had made changes and taken great care to hide them. But why?

            Jason went back upstairs and into the living room. He turned on the television, then sat down on the couch. To an observer, he would look like someone who was having a relaxing afternoon watching television. But in actuality, he was staring at the space behind his television. The space between things.


* * *

            Jason was so obsessed with the space that he forgot about everything else, even his questionable sanity. It wasn’t until Claudia walked through the door–home early from work–that he remembered that there were things in his life besides the space.

            “How was your day?” Claudia asked.

            “Good,” Jason said. He could tell that she didn’t believe him. They made small talk for the rest of the afternoon, as if they had nothing else to talk about. It wasn’t until they were having dinner that Jason mentioned the space. Claudia stared blankly at him.

            Jason pointed at the wall. “It’s right there.”

            “I’m not sure what you’re saying,” Claudia said.

            “The living room wall isn’t on the other side of this wall here,” Jason explained. “It’s about twelve feet further.”

            “So you think . . .?”

            “I don’t know what I think,” Jason said. “It’s just strange. I can’t believe the house was designed to be like this.”

            “It’s an old house,” Claudia said. “Maybe there was a staircase there once.”

            “Maybe,” Jason said.

            “If not,” Claudia said. “Then what do you think it is?”

            “I think there’s something in there,” Jason said, then immediately realized that he was sounding like a character in a bad horror movie. “Like a room that was boarded up for some reason.”

            “And if there is?”

            “Well,” Jason started, but he felt caught. She was right. What if there was a room back there? How did it change anything? He wondered if he was using this as an excuse to not focus on more important things–like whether he was going to kill himself or not. “You’re right,” he said.

            Jason spent the rest of the night trying to be his old self again. He wanted Claudia to know that things could be the way they were before–and that he wasn’t going to lose his mind without any warning. Maybe he was trying to convince himself, too. Claudia’s behavior made it difficult, though. Whenever Jason looked at her, he saw that she had been staring at him. Even if he went into another room, he felt her presence nearby.

            When they were in bed, Jason pretended to fall instantly asleep. He listened to Claudia toss and turn for more than twenty minutes, then she went still. Finally, Jason stopped feeling like a watched pot. He relaxed for the first time since she had come home. He realized that he was exhausted. Sleep quickly began to sneak up on him. Then he heard his name whispered.

            Jason sat up. He had no idea who had whispered his name, but he was positive that it hadn’t been Claudia. No, it was the same person–or entity–that had called his name in the morning. He sat still, listening. All he heard was his and Claudia's breathing.

            Jason quietly got out of bed, then walked to the door that led to the hallway. He knew he had to investigate, but he was terrified. He glanced back at Claudia to make sure she was still asleep, then he turned the knob. He slowly opened the door.

            The hallway was so dark that Jason couldn’t see a thing. For all he knew, an intruder could be standing just a few feet away. He wanted to turn the hallway light on, but he didn't want to wake Claudia up. Instead, he inched out into the dark hallway. He quietly shut the bedroom door behind him, then turned on the hall light.

            The hallway was empty. Jason stood there for a moment, listening to the sounds of the house. He began to wonder if it had been his imagination. Was he hearing voices now?

            Jason glanced down the stairs, then went into the first of the two spare bedrooms. He turned on the light and gave the room a quick look. He walked back into the hallway, then went to the other spare bedroom. He opened the door and flicked the light switch. The light did not come on.

            “Great,” Jason said. He didn’t want to walk into the dark room, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep unless he was sure that no one was in there. He stepped in and gave the room a quick look. He was about to go back to the bedroom, when he felt a slight breeze.

            “What the . . .?” Jason started. The breeze was warm and it seemed to be coming from his right. The room’s two windows were on the left. Jason walked toward the source of the breeze. Directly in front of him was the room’s closet. Its door was closed. He realized that his flashlight was in the kitchen. He considered going down to get it, but then decided to just open the door. He grabbed the knob; it was warm.

            Jason opened the door. Even in the dim light, he could see that the closet was empty. The warm air was swirling around in the closet. He moved his hands around, trying to determine the source of it. Then he saw the shadow of a person on the wall to his left.

            “Who is it?” Jason shouted as he turned around.

            Claudia was standing in the doorway. “It’s me,” she said.

            “Sorry.”

            “Are you all right?” Claudia asked. “What are you doing in that closet?”

            Jason thought of telling her about the breeze, but quickly dismissed the idea. She was already worried sick about his sanity; he didn’t need to add fuel to the fire. “I couldn’t sleep.”

            They both went back to bed. Claudia fell asleep quickly. Jason lay there, staring at the ceiling and thinking about the breeze that was coming from the closet. He was pretty sure that it was coming from the floor, and he was positive that the space was beneath that floor. It was as if there was some kind of machinery running down there. Of course, there was another possibility: Jason could be losing his sanity. He fell asleep wondering if his father had heard voices before sticking the barrel of the shotgun into his mouth.


* * *

            Jason tried to appear normal during breakfast. Because he didn’t want to do anything that would catch her suspicion, he sat where he always did–with the space to his back. He wasn’t positive, but he thought he felt the warm breeze again. He couldn’t understand what could be producing this heat.

            “What were you doing in that closet last night?” Claudia asked.

            “Closet?”

            “Don’t you remember?” she asked.

            “No,” Jason said, lying. He looked at her, wondering if she was thinking about getting him involuntarily locked up. “Maybe I was sleepwalking,” he offered. “I used to do that as a kid.”

            “I didn’t know that.”

            “I’m okay,” Jason said. “Really. You can stop worrying.”

            “I believe you,” Claudia said.

            “Good,” Jason said, then smiled. He knew they were both lying, though. He wasn’t okay, and she didn’t believe him. Ten minutes later, when she was leaving for work, he had the sudden desire to stop her–to scream out, “Don’t leave me!” But instead, he just smiled and waved.

            Jason slowly turned around. Though he knew it wasn’t possible, the space seemed to be staring at him.

             “What do you want?” he whispered. Of course, it didn’t answer. He stood up, then walked through the ground floor rooms, circling the space. He needed to find a way inside, but he couldn’t just tear down a wall. Then he remembered the closet in the spare room upstairs. After going into the kitchen to get his flashlight, he climbed the stairs.

            As Jason approached the closet, he felt the breeze getting stronger. He opened the closet door, then held out his hand and quickly determined that the breeze was coming from the floor. Jason knelt down, then noticed something odd: there was a change in the wood pattern of the boards in the closet floor and it was in the shape of a square. This was some sort of door.

            Jason pulled out his small pocket knife key-chain, then extended the blade. He slid it between two of the floor planks, then pulled up. The square portion came up easily. Below it was a rusted metal door. It had a ring-type handle and a bolt lock.

            “What the hell is this?” Jason asked. His instinct told him to walk away from this door now, but he knew that he wouldn’t. How could he find a strange door and not open it?

            Jason slid the bolt into the open position, then waited for something to happen. When it didn’t, he grabbed the ring handle and pulled. The door was much heavier than he expected–he had to use both hands to pull it up into the open position. Once there, he shined the flashlight into the hole.

            “Oh my God,” Jason said. Below him was what looked like a well. It was circular, made of large bricks, with a circumference of about twelve feet. The strangest thing about it–and the only thing that made Jason think it wasn’t a well–was that it had narrow steps moving clockwise down its wall. He used the flashlight to see where the steps led to, but he saw no sign of a bottom. They just went into an endless darkness. “What the hell is this?” he asked.

            Jason took a moment to try to make sense of it. He didn’t understand why anyone would have built this structure into their house. And if it was here before the house, why hadn’t they just destroyed it? Jason knew that the right thing was to call the police–they would know what to do and who to call about something like this–but he was overcome by a terrible compulsion. The steps started just about five feet below the door. He could easily get down there.

            “You can’t go down there,” Jason said to himself, but his actions seemed to be out of his control. He put his flashlight into his back pocket, then he stuck both legs into the entrance of the well. He used his arms to lower himself, until he felt the steps with his feet. Once he did, he followed the steps down with his feet until his upper body was also in the well. He pulled the flashlight out, then shined it around. Everything appeared damp. It was as if the well was sweating. The steps were narrower than he had expected, and some had corroded down to nothing. If he went down, there wouldn’t be any room for error.

            “This is crazy,” Jason said, then he started down the steps, holding the flashlight with his right hand and clutching onto the brick wall with his left. His first few steps were cautious and unsteady, but then he got into a rhythm. A few minutes later, he realized that it was getting warmer. His body was covered with sweat. He shined his flashlight down, but still saw no end to the steps.

            “How deep is this?” Jason asked, then he shined his light up. He saw that the entrance was way above him. He estimated that he was at least twenty feet below ground. Jason felt an intense dread, but he continued down.

            Jason fell into a sort of trance, watching his feet take one step after another. He lost all sense of time as he went farther and farther down. Then he heard a distant rumbling sound from way above. He gasped, then he immediately realized what the noise had been–the door had shut. Jason looked up, but he only saw darkness. He shined the flashlight up, but the top of the well was out of its range.

            “Oh my God,” Jason said, suddenly terrified. “You have to get out of this place.”

            Jason heard a crumbling sound from below. It startled him so badly that he jumped and temporarily lost his balance. Jason quickly grabbed at the wall, then pulled himself to it. He pressed his face against the wall, paralyzed with fear. Then he heard the sound again. This time, though, he realized that it was a footstep. Someone–or something–was down here with him.

            “Who is it?” Jason screamed. There was no answer.

             Jason turned his body around, then shined the flashlight down, following the steps with its beam. He saw nothing.

            “Jason,” a voice whispered.

            Jason’s entire body shivered. He struggled to get words out of his mouth. “Who is it?” he choked out.

            “Don’t leave me, Jason,” the voice whispered. It was male.

            “Leave me alone,” Jason said. Then he heard footsteps. The man was coming up. Jason turned around so that he could go up the steps. He took a step, then another.

            “Jason,” the man whispered. “Please.”

            “How do you know my name?” Jason screamed back as he continued up.

            “Don’t you recognize my voice?” the man asked.

            “No,” Jason said. He stopped, feeling a mixture of curiosity and fear. He wanted to know who this man was, but he knew that this whole situation was wrong. He waited there, listening to the man climbing the steps toward him.

            “I’m tired, Jason,” the man said. “Why don’t you come down?”

            “No,” Jason said. He listened to more footsteps. Then the man came into his view. He was tall, lanky and he had gray hair. Something about him looked familiar, but Jason couldn’t tell what it was. Jason aimed his flashlight at the man’s face. Then he recognized him. He didn’t know him from his memory, but from pictures; it was his father.

            Jason gasped and stepped back, tripping on the steps behind him. He fell. For a horrible moment, he thought he was going to fall into the well, but his body slammed back into the steps. His flashlight popped out his hand. Jason quickly grabbed onto an out-shooting brick in the wall to keep himself from tumbling over. He looked down and saw the beam of his flashlight falling into the darkness. He didn’t hear it hit bottom.

            Jason was now in a complete darkness. He felt an awful panic coming from inside him. “I can’t see!”

            “It’s all right, son,” his father whispered.

            “No,” Jason said. He waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness, but they didn’t. He brought his hands up to his face to make sure his eyes were open. They were.

            “I’ve been waiting for so long, son.”

            Jason suddenly realized where he was. This was the entrance to a place he had never believed in–at least not until his stay at the Overlook Hospital mental ward. But now he knew that it was real.

            “Talk to me, son.”

            “Leave me alone!” Jason screamed. He realized that he was falling apart. He could feel every muscle in his body quivering. He knew he had to hold onto his wits, though. He grabbed the stones in the wall on his left, then used to them to guide him to his feet.

            Jason looked up, but saw nothing at all. He knew that if he was going to escape from this place, he would have to do it blind. He moved his foot up, felt the step below his heel, then put his weight up on it. Using the wall to guide him, he continued up, one careful step after another.

            “Please don’t leave me, Jason,” his father pleaded.

            “Shut up!” Jason screamed. For a moment, he lost his focus and the horror of the situation began to get a grip on him. His legs began to shake so violently, that he thought he might fall.

            Jason rammed his faced against the wall. He felt sharp pain just above his right eye, then warm blood trickling down his cheek. It worked, though. He was back in the moment. Back in the reality of getting out of here. He continued up the steps.

            “I’m so lonely,” his father whispered.

            “Shut up!” Jason was moving too fast now. One wrong step and he would tumble to a place he couldn’t come back from. He didn’t care, though. He had to get out of here.

            “You can’t leave here, son,” his father said.

            “I’m almost there,” Jason said, then something terrible occurred to him. Maybe this was all in his imagination. After all, what would a door to hell be doing in his Montclair home? Or worse, maybe he was already dead. Maybe he had committed suicide, and he was now on the other side. Maybe this was what it was like to be dead.

            “It’s all right, son,” his father said. “We’ll have each other to talk to.”

            “No!” Jason said. He continued up, fighting the awful possibilities that were in his mind. He had to believe he was still alive and that his father was trying to trick him–otherwise, he would just give up.

            “I’ve been so lonely!” his father cried.

            “Leave me alone!” Jason screamed.

            “You can’t leave me!”

            “I’m going to!”

            “No one gets out of hell, my boy.”


* * *

            When Claudia came home from work, Jason was standing on the front lawn, staring at the house. She approached him with caution. She gasped when she saw his face. He was still covered with soot and the wound on his face was open.

            “You went behind that wall,” she said.

            “Yes,” Jason responded.

            “Did you find anything?”

            “No,” Jason said, lying. After he had gotten out of the space, he had shut the door and locked it. Then he went to a hardware store and bought a welding kit. He welded the metal door, then nailed shut the wooden door above it. If anyone else wanted to get in, they’d have to work hard to do it.

            “I told you,” Claudia said.

            “I know,” Jason said, smiling. He looked up at his house. It looked so normal from the outside. “Why did we move here?”

            “Don’t you remember?” Claudia asked. “The minute you saw it, you said ‘this is the place I have to live in.’ You were so in love with it.”

            “Yes,” Jason said. He didn’t even remember coming to look at the house, but he believed her. It made perfect sense. This place had called him. Lured him. The house–or the space–had been inviting him to self-destruction from the moment they had moved in. And part of him had wanted it. It was the part of him that wanted, like every boy, to be just like his father. The part of him that had always wondered if his father had killed himself because he had known something that the rest of us couldn’t–or chose not to–know. Some secret knowledge that only suicides had.

            “Are you okay?” she asked.

            “Yes,” Jason said. And for the first time in weeks, he wasn’t lying about it. “Let’s move,” he said.

            “Okay,” Claudia said. “When?”

            “Now,” Jason said. “We can stay with your parents and until we find a new place. The hell with the lease.”

            “Something happened, didn’t it?” Claudia said, looking concerned.

            “Yes,” Jason replied, then pulled her close to him. “But it was something good.”

            Jason never spoke to Claudia–nor anyone else--about what had happened in the space.

He didn’t think anyone would believe him, and he also wasn’t sure what he had really found there. He suspected that it was simply a door to his worst fears, and that what was behind the door depended on the person who opened it. But maybe it had been exactly as he remembered it–an entrance to Hell. Maybe there were doors like it all over the world, with dead people on the other side of each one–not burning in flames, but dying of loneliness.