by Adam Randolph
Poor old man, hobbling the green-invaded sidewalk.
Maybe that’s what his students thought — or maybe not — watching Professor Tom “Teddy” Bow’s white-ringed head bouncing harshly like a pink rubber ball anticipating its stop.
The tenured old man had a nervously eyeless smile. Many students were unsettled by the ambiguity of his unchanging expression, but it allowed what passed before his eyes to truly pass, to be forgotten amidst solipsizing.
He was lost now in couldn’t-have-been fantasies of leaving his office the night before. Spinning in the innocent words he’d said to the student who had stopped him while he was locking up, spinning even more in the less innocent words he knew better than ever to say.
Blonde, he’d admit of her, with desiring green eyes he dreamed of dilating, a waist that deserved his arm, and legs...
Leave him the intimacy of the most private elements of his dreams.
Professor Bow was thinking — not innocently — of the innocent eyes and the tingling timbre of the childishly nasal voice that had asked which president swam the Delaware to meet his gay lover. This began a progression of corrections until, urged by starred darkness and yawns, Bow promised the confused and still-ignorant girl — through the awkward miasma from her strawberry-peach-aloe hair — that he would happily tutor her over anything she was unclear on. He’d carefully and professionally emphasized the encouragement that knowledge is acquired only with time and effort.
Too aware of his aging disappointment, the professor didn’t notice the glances and glares so many students with a definite female bias burned at him. His deaf ears muttered past whispers about the “dirty old man” and the “offer” made to Dani last night when she went for help. Just for help, she’d told slight, rugged, or round peers over beers, glazed and globular green eyes exciting them with her frustration.
Professor Bow hummed along campus, languidly lost in remembered lust, until the sidewalk reached the building his first class was in.
There was no door. An enormous black glass window was seamed into the orange brick where the door had been.
Professor Bow stopped, confused, wondering where the budget for overnight deconstruction had come from. He scratched the smoothed wrinkles on his crown until contemplation made his fingers forget to move. His hands gradually dropped in front of him. The left absentmindedly enfolded his right thumb.
As the septuagenarian professor stood, hands working reflectively in front of him, two girls pushed past with books over chests. They sneered at the old man and walked through the window whispering to one another.
Bow’s mouth stammered soundlessly. He took a couple steps back and forth as his mind refiled itself.
He decided he must be dreaming. It was a very realistic dream, but, not having noticed anything nightmarish yet, he decided instead of waking to follow the two girls through the window, wondering if inside he might meet Elvis or Eisenhower swimming a cotton candy cove with Jell-o clouds and a fish-flesh sand bar overgrown with tartar-sauce trees.
The thing it would take, Bow concluded, was assurance, the acceptance and awareness with which he ruled this dream. The professor walked confidently toward the door as though it were the back of a wardrobe. It wasn’t one. He landed on the breakable bones of his bum with a smacked-against-glass scalp.
One of his hands felt for the formation of an egg on his forehead. Nothing certain yet, he decided after the probe.
A group of students, boys and girls, walked past. One of the boys guffawed rudely at Professor Bow who looked down to hide the embarrassed purpling of his face. Standing, Bow creaked and brushed off his bruised buns.
This felt corporeal for a dream.
The students chatted through the window at a maintained pace. The boy who had laughed looked back with a carnivorous grin dopplered by the slide of reflecting darkness over his face.
The professor pressed fingertips against the window the students had passed through. Felt solid. He tapped the glass. It made the clank glass makes. The wind cooled his finger pads when he held them within the window’s magnetic range. Bow sniffed to smell the dirty residue of midwest rain mixed with pollen that stuffed his nose enough to make him glad he’d never had to worry about allergies.
No, not very dream-like at all.
This wasn’t the only door.
He limped around the building toward the front entrance but when he got there found the same thing. He tried peeping inside, but the reflection of sunlight blinded him.
He shivered. It was cold February. He’d been looking forward to getting warmly inside where most of the students and professors now must be. The last late students ran across campus. Wanting to catch one, the professor positioned himself by one of the windows and begged a rushing boy, obese with glasses as Bow had been a semi-century ago. “Excuse me, do you have any idea what’s happened to the doors?”
The lad stopped long enough to gape at the shivering circus-freak professor.
“The doors,” pinched out Professor Bow. “Why are there windows everywhere? And how do you get through them?”
The student’s eyebrows rose over an embarrassed smirk that grew into a blast of confused laugh before he ran past. Bow yelled after him, frantically snatching too late for the boy’s shoulder as he disappeared through the sun-glared windows.
Bow’s moan approached prayer.
Positioning himself on the sidewalk, back on the bucking bull, he decided on a fellow professor: a blonde single-busted fortyish woman the students rumored was a lesbian.
“Where are the doors?” he blurted at her.
She laughed and asked what he was talking about. “Did they take the doors off our offices?”
He gestured akimbo at the buildings. “The doors!” he labored out. “Look, the doors are replaced with black, black windows! Black like forever night before you’re ejected and ever after you die! Blacker than devil-heart wrapped in grease-soaked manger swaddling all set to burn if no one can tell me what’s happening now! Can’t you see them, Frieda?”
Frieda laughed cheerily and freely. “What’d you take, Teddy?” She winked. “If you want to share some, see me after class.” She giggled and was through the glass.
Bow felt his chest sag, suffering suffocation of existence. He gasped back to himself, alone on an empty campus. Well, he thought stoically, it’s time to be methodical about this. Make old Stirling over in Sciences proud.
The professor circled the building. He checked each former door and peered into every window, cupped hands to his temples shielding out light. He found all of them as impenetrable as the first two: this one was dark inside, that one had glare, this one was overgrown by bushes he couldn’t cramble through without ripping every thread in his sweater. He tried and ended with thorns in fingers and an eye.
He sat on the cracked cement until tears had to be brushed from the collecting bags beneath his wrinkled eyes, significantly more from the thorned eye.
Hopeless; that was when he found it: the one unique window. He looked up and there it was: invisible until he gave up.
Instead of the opaque blackness of the other windows, through this one — which had always been a window — he could see the plastically stacked plainness of closed shades. He knocked on the window, trying but failing to measure if there were light beyond the shades. He analyzed the threadline between each creamy strip of dusty plastic.
Nobody answered his knock.
He stared at the shades for minutes, breathing hard. Finally the professor checked his watch. Everyone should’ve run out of class half an hour ago.
He sat to think or die.
The wind pulled at him angrily. He considered walking back home, but something inside him was popping. Emoted and adrenalined blood was tapping his eardrums, calling him to war. Maybe there was something malevolent and nameless inside, a corrupt thing who satanically mesmerized everyone but him past its teeth.
He eyed a brick sitting where the decorative wall of a gazebo had begun to crumble. Furiously, he picked up the brick, wrenched back the arm ready to use up the strength saved for the last years of his life, and sat back down.
He couldn’t smash a window. What if somebody were just inside? What if the brick bludgeoned an innocent and his wrists were haloed by dull metal clicked into place by a tongue-clicking cop? What if whoever he bricked over the head was bodybagged while he was still standing there? What if his eyes were forced to trace the wheeled trajectory scraping from building to ambulance?
As he was thinking this, it began to rain. The first drop fell on his nose and shivered his scoliotic spine, making the decision for him. He pulled back his arm with forgotten youthful impulsiveness and hurled!
Smash! he saw it go. The glass fell out of place in plates and shattered to the cement!
Bow froze, staring at the darkness inside. The destruction of the glass had changed nothing. He bumped himself closer. He couldn’t see anything inside. A few more steps and...
He was standing toe tips to the doorway now. It was black and empty inside. His pupils quivered, confused between the cloudy light outside and the indecipherability he faced.
Christ, there was no floor! Nothing to see or walk on! It stank of Gehenna, rotting dog soaked in cat urine fueled by diarrheic cow dung.
The only noise that came out of the blankness inside was a buzzing like thousands of cricket modems. As he listened, formations of words congealed from the whitened noise. There was a syllable, a word, one or two coalesces that audiated into an angry: “Cut him out!” It was a single hundred voices, overtones and undertones androgonizing into something erased of form.
Then there was silence. Not even wind. The rain was gone.
And the voice again. The voice he could not qualify or define echoed, filled, and defiled him.
“Keep him out.”
Copyright © 2014 by Adam Randolph