Daniela interrupts with, “One of you shot at our car with Charlie inside. Over. Done.”
She pulls me forward.
We’re closing in on them.
They’re not getting out of our way.
Someone says, “You’re here now. Let’s have that lottery.”
Daniela squeezes my arm even tighter.
She says, “Charlie and I are going into the box with this man.” Her voice breaks. “If there were some other way…We’re all just doing the best we can.”
It’s unavoidable—I make eye contact with the nearest Jason, his envy and jealousy a living thing. Dressed in tattered clothes, he reeks of homelessness and despair.
Says to me in a low growl, “Why should you get her?”
The Jason beside him says, “This isn’t about him. It’s about what she wants. What our son needs. That’s all that matters now. Let them pa.s.s. All of you.”
The crowd begins to part.
We move slowly through the corridor of Jasons.
Some are crying.
Hot, angry, desperate tears.
I am too.
So is Daniela.
So is Charlie.
Others stand stoic and tense.
Finally, the last one steps out of the way.
The box looms straight ahead.
The door wide open.
Charlie enters first, followed by Daniela.
I keep waiting for something to happen as my heart hammers in my chest.
At this point, nothing would surprise me.
I cross the threshold, put my hand on the door, and catch one last glimpse of my world.
It’s an image I will never forget.
Light from the high windows streaming down onto the old generators as fifty versions of me all stare toward the box in a stunned and eerie and devastated silence.
The locking mechanism to the door triggers.
The bolt shoots home.
I turn on the flashlight and look at my family.
For a moment, Daniela looks like she’s about to break down, but she holds it together.
I pull out the syringes, the needles, the ampoules.
Set everything up.
Just like old times.
I help Charlie roll his sleeve above his elbow.
“First time’s a little intense. You ready?”
Holding his arm steady, I slide the needle into the vein, pull back on the plunger, see blood mix into the syringe.
As I fire the full load of Ryan’s drug into my son’s bloodstream, Charlie’s eyes roll back and he slumps against the wall.
I tie the tourniquet around my arm.
“How long does the effect last?” Daniela asks.
“About an hour.”
Charlie sits up.
“You all right?” I ask.
“That was weird.”
I inject myself. It’s been a few days since my last use, and the drug smashes into me harder than usual.
When I’ve recovered, I lift the last syringe.
“Your turn, my love.”
“I hate needles.”
“Don’t worry. I’ve gotten pretty good at this.”
Soon we’re all under the effect of the drug.
Daniela takes the light out of my hand and steps away from the door.
As it illuminates the corridor, I watch her face. I watch my son’s face. They look afraid. Awestruck. I think back to the first time I saw the corridor, to the sense of horror and wonder that overwhelmed me.
The sense of being nowhere.
And in between.
“How far does it go?” Charlie asks.
“It never ends.”
We walk together down this corridor that runs into infinity.
I can’t quite believe I’m here again.
That I’m here with them.
I’m not sure exactly what I’m feeling, but it isn’t the raw fear I experienced before.
Charlie says, “So each of these doors…”
“Opens into another world.”
I look at Daniela, ask, “You okay?”
“Yes. I’m with you.”
We’ve been walking for a while now, and our time is running short.
I say, “The drug will be wearing off soon. We should probably get going.”
And so we stop in front of a door that looks like all the rest.
Daniela says, “I was thinking—all these other Jasons found their way back to their world. What’s to say one of them won’t find their way into wherever we end up? In theory, they all think the same way you do, right?”
“Yeah, but I’m not going to open a door, and neither are you.”
I turn to Charlie.
He says, “Me? What if I mess up? What if I take us to some terrible place?”
“I trust you.”
“I do too,” Daniela says.
I say, “Even though you’ll be opening the door, the path to this next world is actually one we’re creating together. The three of us.” Charlie looks at the door, tense. “Look,” I say, “I’ve tried to explain to you how the box works, but forget all that for a minute. Here’s the thing. The box isn’t all that different from life. If you go in with fear, fear is what you’ll find.”
“But I don’t even know where to start,” he says.
“It’s a blank canvas.”
I embrace my son.
I tell him I love him.
Tell him I’m so proud.
Then Daniela and I sit on the floor with our backs against the wall, facing Charlie and the door. She leans her head against my shoulder and holds my hand.
Driving here last night, I a.s.sumed that in this moment I’d be terrified of walking into a new world, but I’m not afraid at all.
I’m filled with a childlike excitement to see what comes next.
As long as my people are with me, I’m ready for anything.
Charlie steps toward the door and takes hold of the handle.
Just before he opens it, he draws a breath and glances back at us, as brave and strong as I’ve ever seen him.
He turns the handle, and I hear the latch bolt slide from its housing.
A blade of light shears into the corridor, so brilliant I have to s.h.i.+eld my eyes for a moment. When they finally adjust, I see Charlie silhouetted in the open doorway of the box.
Rising, I pull Daniela onto her feet, and we walk over to our son as the cold, sterile vacuum of the corridor fills with warmth and light.
A wind through the door carries the scent of wet earth and unknown flowers.