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The Red Oak

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I watched as the bubbles formed in the coffee, boiling slowly. The smell of the brown seeds wafted to my nostrils, already waking me up.

The birds chirped somewhere outside, their resonance barely entering the house from the veiled window in the living room. I poured myself a hot cup of coffee and strode to the large bedroom, ignoring the cherry door that led to another bedroom I never bothered to investigate.

It had been a few days since I rented this elegant house. I must admit that I found it unnerving that I could afford to rent something like this, but the landlord was more than eager to rent it out as soon as he could, requesting a ridiculously cheap initial payment. Some people would advise to stay away from a house like this. Since, for the price the landlord offered, something could be broken somewhere in the house. There was no explanation to his decision, but being the chance-taking person I am, I couldn’t turn down his offer.

The neighborhood was clean and quiet. And the house appeared plain if someone were to look at it from the outside. Nonetheless, it was indescribably homey, as if it was enclosed by the warmth of people that once lived here. I doubt anyone would be able to resist renting this house for such a cheap price.

But his generosity was sometimes unsettling, really. The stainless-steel-themed kitchen was fully equipped. And many utensils were in the drawers. The living room was comfy and looked way too expensive. My bedroom was entirely sophisticated, with intricate decorations and lavish fittings, but I never had the time to view the one across of it. I never needed an extra bedroom, anyway.

Even the bathroom made me feel as if I was in a comfortable hotel. But yet, it was incredibly cheap, it made me think that the landlord just wanted a neighbor across of him.

Although the house was undoubtedly visually appealing, there were a few problems I encountered, ones that I expected the house to have within this price range. Firstly, an overpowering stench that roamed about my bedroom, one that I tried to flush away with chlorine and air freshener. But no matter what I attempted to do to the carpet that was installed there—I never managed to remove the awful, awful smell. Through the week, I learned to get accustomed to it.

Secondly, the discomforting fact that the fitted curtains were very thick, and firmly locked in their places on the rods. I sometimes couldn’t tell if it was morning or night when I sat in my bedroom. And I accepted that I would be paying high electric bills soon. I didn’t need much privacy, but I guess someone did before me.

I swung open the oak door to my bedroom, and the now-familiar screech came from somewhere around the hinges. I cringed, reminded of one extra problem in the house. I let go of the door until it hit the wall, and sat the cup down on my desk. I approached the oak entrance.

Something was entirely wrong with the oak door that led to my room. I hadn’t called the landlord to let him know of any complications, because he was gracious enough to offer me the luxury of living in such a home for so cheap. I reached out and grabbed the oak door by the knob, pulling on it until the door swung to its closing. That sound again, that annoying sound. Screeeeeeeeeeeeeech. Until I heard the click. I sighed, my breath colliding with the now-closed door.

I shook my head and reopened it, ignoring the shriek-like sound. I kneeled down and stared at the strong hinges. I had oiled the damn things several times through the course of my living here, but no amount of oil and no variety of it fixed the noise. Olive oil, petroleum jelly, whatever, none of them worked. It might sound like a very trivial complication, but any kind of noise in the early mornings would surely get on anyone’s nerves, especially if the person using the door prefers to keep it closed at all times, yet demands several trips to the bathroom and kitchen a day. Effectively having to deal with the noise over and over again.

I never really checked if the cherry door across made the same noise. I made my way towards the cherry door, stopping in front of it. I braced myself and grabbed the knob, pushing the door open. It resisted against my force, apparently heavier than I thought. I shoved it until it budged. The motion caused the door to emit a horrible screech, enough to force me to cover my ears. A terrible smell also welcomed me, more terrible than the one that wafted in my bedroom. My bedroom once mocked the chlorine I’ve sprayed in every corner of it, but I’m willing to bet that chlorine would do nothing at all in this one. I breathed lightly and I retested the hinges by pushing the door towards the wall, and was punished by the loud screech that, once more, nearly pierced my eardrums.

I thought oak wood would be heavier than cherry wood, but the oak door to my bedroom was light and compact, and not as heavy as the cherry door that led to this room. When I pushed open that door for the first time, I momentarily struggled with my assumption that it would be as light as the others. But instead, it was peculiarly heavy—not very easy to push, and certainly a lot heavier than any other door in the house.

I took a breath and stared at the oak door across. I had thought the noise its hinges made was absolutely horrible, but compared to the cherry door, it was barely a whisper. I walked to my room and knocked on its door twice, hearing that it was somewhat hollow. Yes, I knew that it had something to do with how filled the door was. I approached the cherry door again and knocked on the surface. Filled. The knock was masked by the hardness of the wood inside. Perhaps a completely hollow door would force the doors to be less noisy? I sighed and scratched away the desire to fetch some oil, and attempt to coax it into silence. Because somehow, I knew that it would be futile.

I surveyed the smaller room beyond the cherry door. There was nothing particularly odd about it—not the setup, not the colors. Just the scent that reeked from somewhere I never pinpointed.

I put a hand over my nose and walked away from the room, standing still in the corridor. I glanced at the oak door and clutched it from its side, pulling it towards me. The screech it made was bearable now, compared to the cherry door.

Wait a moment…

I pushed and pulled it again, trying to separate the screech from any other sound the door could emit, and I noticed the very faint noise of gravel scratching against wood. A muffled, almost inaudible sound. I shook the door and heard it more clearly—almost like tiny pebbles shaking inside the door. What could this be?

I glanced at the cherry door behind me. If the oak door is hollow and contains a good amount of sand, does that mean that the cherry door is filled to the brim with it? I stood and walked towards the kitchen, and tried to find a knife between all the useless utensils in the drawer. I held the sharp object tightly in my hand and ushered back to the cherry door. I’m sure the landlord wouldn’t mind a tiny hole in the bottom of it.

I tried to pierce the door with the knife, but to no avail. I cursed the lack of a drill and strengthened my strike, again and again on the same spot until I formed a hole in the wood. Greyish powder began pouring out of the door, pooling underneath it. I sucked in a breath and touched the powder with my finger. It was moderately scratchy, yet not like sand at all. I lifted it to my nose and sniffed, but it smelled like nothing.

Suddenly, I heard the doorbell ring, pulling me away from my investigation. I stared at the still-going hole in the door, and in a blind rush, attempted to close it with my palm. I looked around for something I could use to block the sand from gushing out, but found nothing. I rose and quickly fetched duct tape from the kitchen, ignoring the silhouette behind the front door that rang the bell again. I temporarily fixed the glaring hole I made. And I swept the sand away into the plain bedroom, reminding myself to take care of it later.

I hurried to my front door and opened it, noticing that there is no screech. My landlord was behind it. Oh shit, act calm. You didn’t just break his door. Just don’t think about it.

“Hello! It’s good to see you,” I said to my landlord, faking a smile.

“Good to see you too,” he said, scratching his beard as he looked at me thoroughly. “You’re breathing harshly, have you been running?”

“What?” I asked, baffled, “No, I just ran to the door.” I half lied.

“Well, I came to ask you if you’re enjoying your new house. You never called me after you moved in.” He paused for a moment, “Was it… four days ago?”

“Five.”

“Oh well, my memory is slowly becoming crappier.” He laughed, and I awkwardly joined in, “So, any… complaints?”

“Uh, not really, everything is fine.”

“Sorry about that bedroom, the smaller one,” he said, nodding politely, “I take it that you’ve went there?”

“Yes… It does have a terrible smell, if this is what you mean.”

“I tried clearing the damn thing of that stench, but I don’t think it’s the carpet.” He scratched his beard again, “Maybe there’s something stuck between the walls, some dead animal that managed to crawl in.”

“I doubt that.”

I hadn’t taken a breath before he asked me again, “Anything else?”

I took a breath and forced myself to begin, “Yes, the doors sound horrible whenever I try to move them. I tried to oil the hinges, but it didn’t work.”

His expression remained calm as I explained that to him, “Well, I’m aware of that. But there is a little nifty trick to fix it until I figure out what to do with them, let me show you.” He tried to walk in, but I stood in front of him.

“That’s not necessary. Please, you’ve done enough.” I can’t let him see the cherry door, he will probably force me to pay double to fix it.

“Please, I insist.” He practically pushed in and walked towards the corridor that led to the bedrooms. I stared into space and calmly shut the front door.

I slowly walked towards the landlord, and found him staring straight at the duct tape that was speedily slapped on the bottom of the cherry door.

“What’s this?” He nodded towards the tape, smoothing down his shirt.

“I… well, the door seemed heavy, and I wanted to know if it had anything inside.”

He glowered at me for a moment, then glanced back at the door.

“And what did you find?” He asked me, his voice sounding oddly rigid.

“I found some sort of grey sand, but I’m not sure if it’s sand…”

“You’re right, it isn’t sand,” he said, staring at me once more.

“Then… what is it? And why is it there?”

“I made this door, you know.” He ignored my questions, exhaling after his statement.

“Really? You’re a carpenter?” I furrowed my brows and tried to link the annoying screeches with his profession.

“Was a carpenter. Now I stay at home.” He kept his stare.

I shook my head, glancing at the two doors. He stood in his place as he balanced his gaze between the cherry door, and my eyes.

“Why do you put sand inside your doors, then?”

“I told you, it isn’t sand.” He walked past me, but I stayed and knelt by the cherry door.

I touched the duct tape and felt the scratchy substance that was stuck to the adhesive. I pulled away the duct tape and watched as the powder poured out of the moderately-sized hole again. But before I could touch it, I felt the air of the landlord approaching. I looked up at him, but I only caught a glimpse of his dark stare before he struck a syringe of something in my neck.

I couldn’t move. I felt the burn of the scorching wood as it kissed my skin and melted everything away, I felt the sear of metal underneath my back. I felt everything, yet I couldn’t move. I wanted to scream for help, to shriek for help, to screech for help, but I couldn’t. And the flames devoured my body, and yet I stayed somewhat aware of a few things— the air as it tickled my shrunken bones and shriveled skin once, blowing a portion of me away. The enclosing of oak wood around my shapeless body. The feeling of the powder that formed my two cellmates mixing with mine, and the calls of agony that they emitted whenever the oak enfolding us was nudged from outside. Later, the door was taken down from the frame, and we were showered with more inmates. They began to screech for help, as well. Our presence generated an intangible reek in the room, unnatural and belonging to a vague entity, yet solid enough that I could somehow smell it.

At first, it felt as if the screeching of the oak door was inside me, against me, and around me all at once. But after a while in this darkness, I joined the others, and began screeching with all my might whenever someone nudged our oak incasing. Pleading for help, calling for my final rest. But my prayers were answered by the louder screech that was dipped in the texture of cherry wood, and more cellmates.

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