A House with a Red Door is the prologue to the first book of Endangered.
A House with a Red DoorEdit
Hello. It’s been a long time. I’ve missed you, I’ve missed this. It all feels different now, I know, but that’s in the past. We can still do this--I’m back now. I’m sorry if this all seems a bit rusty, I haven’t done this in awhile. I’m sorry, I--ugh, what I’m trying to say is: this can be a fresh start. I--I, ugh--
Charles cursed himself for forgetting the speech again. He’s practiced this for what felt like centuries now; his memory is not what it used to be.. He knows what to say and how he needs to say it but the words never form. That’s always been a problem that haunted him. Disappointed, he slumped himself further into the wall and coughed up a lung, once again to think over the words.
Charles was a man best described as a fossil. He was an older man whose worn eyes have seen the city change before him. He had a lot of wisdom--even if not a particularly wise man--but no one would ever care to listen to him. His ragged street clothes, unkempt hair and constant dirt gave him a particular image. The image wasn’t misplaced, but still, Charles hated being grouped in as just another drugged homeless.
He knew the way people looked at him. He always felt their gaze. The sorrow, mockery, the pure disgust, people were always scared off by Charles. He didn’t know if they were scared by him or what he represents. They all ignore problems that ain’t theirs and than have the audacity to judge them. What do they know about him? They don’t know him, his pain, his feelings, they don’t know anything. They all just disrespectful.
Philadelphia was always a city of assholes--but it was his city of assholes. This is the city where he was born and this is where he will die. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
Charles spent most of his life in West Philadelphia, born and raised. Even with his sore memory Charles can vividly remember his home. The creaky stairs, the strange basement, the smell of his favorite breakfast in the kitchen, the oversized bathtub and the comfortable couch he’d melt in. Most importantly he can remember the red door. His father built that front door with his own bare hands. It was steady, heavy, not a scratch on it. He painted it red after Charles mother’s favorite color. The house, like the others on their block, was all rundown--except for that door. The other kids would mock him for it. First thing anyone sees on this block is that bright ass door. Everyone on the block knew about the house with the red door. He smiled as the memories flourished back. Sometimes, if lucky, he sees it in his dreams.
He hasn’t been to the house in many years. Another victim to Charles’s drug habit. It got bad when his little brother found a stash of his heroin. His mother was furious. He ain’t never seen such a small woman be able to drag a man like him out. She demanded he not come back until he finally became “a man”. To this day Charles is trying to make that come true but he always falls short.
Today, Charles thinks to himself, I will. He is finally going home again after many years astray. With enough change he bought himself a one-way ticket on the subway. He’s been practicing the speech he’s going to give his family. Today is the most important day he’s had in a long time: if it all goes well, he’ll finally have a family and home again. It’s the first time in a long time Charles has felt excitement. His excitement was only slightly tampered by this bad cough he’s been having the past day but he always beat out any illness thrown at him.
No sickness could ruin this, after-all. Charles hasn’t had a home in years. Most nights nowadays he spends with others like him in Suburban, an underground transportation station. The homeless down there almost have their own little community. There’s Johnny, a shifty young man whose opioids ruined his future; Isabel, a fierce lady who makes herself a living by scaring a few bucks from people; Levin, who Charles caught that virus from; and then there is Kevin, a man even older than Charles.
He couldn’t even imagine what Kevin had seen. Kevin only gives small glimpses into his past. Instead, he spends most his words giving sage advice or panicking about strange theories. Last week, Charles still remembers a conversation he had with the mystery man. It was the hottest day of the year, and as such, their section of the station was packed with people trying to escape the sun’s wrath. The heat and crowds made everyone a bit on edge, even Charles was raising his voice at anyone who gave him a glare. Charles found a rare colorless Kevin sitting alone near the terminals. Charles still felt the weight of Kevin’s look that day.
“Charlie, I think they’re getting rid of us,” Kevin said to him, “I see these people at night. They come around and take people away. I think they got Flips. Flips. I haven’t seen him around here.” Kevin’s speaking without his trademark whimsical shook Charles. His hands trembled onto Charles’ shoulders and pulled him close. “They’re trying to kill us, Charles.”
Charlie always humored Kevin’s theories, even when they got more outlandish than the last. Charles’s favorite had to be how WaWa was drugging its hoagies to mind-control Philadelphia. Kevin always told his ideas with such fiery passion and showmanship that Charles sometimes found himself believing in them. This one was different. The way Kevin spoke he almost seemed regretful that he found out.
Charles took Kevin’s pleas with a grain of salt. It was no secret that Philadelphia was ashamed of it’s shortcomings. It had one of the nation’s highest poverty rates, and with it a decent homeless population. Jacob Ryker, one of the city’s elites and a candidate for mayor, had said it was a plague that needs to be fixed. To the city’s defense they’ve opened shelters and started Project HOME to combat it. For all their efforts, nothing seemed to stabilize the problems. It takes more than money to fix the mindsets of people like Charles. Still, the government rounding up homeless people and executing them? It’s simoustanly outlandish and entirely plausible.
After what felt like an eternity of traveling, Charles found himself in his old neighborhood. In his mind he thought it would all look the same. He thought Mr. Omar’s deli would be giving out free soda to the kids on this hot day, but the deli was torn down and remodeled into something else. A Dunkin Donuts, of all things, as if they didn’t have enough stores. Charles had to double check and see if he was in the right area. The street names were the same but they were all foreign to him.
He shuffles his way down the streets, looking at the changing neighborhood around him. The nearby colleges in University City have renovated the surrounding West area. Charles watched the city change over his lifetime but he always hoped this slice of it would remain standing. All the history in those streets, the legacy of those before, lost.
When Charles finally turned the corner onto his old block he expected to see the door still freshly painted and shining out. Except, there was no red on the block. He wasn’t even sure if it was his block. The buildings have been refurbished, the street paved, and where his home should be sits an apartment complex. Charles himself breathing heavily, to the point where he needed a stop sign to rest on. This couldn’t be right, he thought to himself. He didn’t know what was going on. The smile he woke up with today has been eradicated with anguish. Where was it?
Charles waved his arm at the nearest person to him. A dark-haired man, although startled by Charles’s sudden movement, didn’t give Charles the contempt he was used to. “Where is it?” Charles puffed to the unknowing stranger.
“Excuse me?” He spoke with a strange accent that Charles wasn’t familiar with.
“The red door. I don’t know where it is. My--my house it should be..” Charles understood at how insane he seemed but he truly was at a loss of the situation. The stranger remained puzzled at Charles’s despair.
“I’m sorry, mate. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Charles was powerless to stop the stranger from leaving as he drifted further into his mind. Something was wrong, he could feel it. It hasn’t been that long since he left home ...has it? No, it couldn’t have been. It only had to have been….
Charles stopped his panicking when he realized what had happened. It’s been over twenty years since he left home. The house, he recalls, was torn down years ago. His mother died years before that.
Charles forgot what year it was again. Charles fails to remember a lot nowadays. His mind is muddled mess of different years and peoples without an organizing thought to it. With what Charles did to his body his mind will never be the same. The drugs really did take everything from him.
His fit of emotion had Charles’s chest clog up. As if like an instinct he began coughing again. He let out a few, each taking more out of him than the last. The last cough was powerful enough to shoot some blood onto his hand. Not a fatal amount but enough where a regular person would be worried. To Charles, it's just another problem to add on. Not like he knew a way to get it checked out. He wished he knew what he could do, though, since he’s feeling weaker by the hour.
With bystanders looking Charles stopped himself from having an outburst. He rubbed his eyes free of moist, straightened himself out and let out a disappointed sigh. He really wanted his delusion to be true. What he would do to have his youth again and prevent his mistakes from happening.
He gave one last glance to where his house was before departing.
Charles had made his way back to Suburban Station before nightfall. He curled himself up in his usual spot, wrapped around his worn out, dirty blanket.
The blanket has been with him for a few years now. Years ago, during a particularly bad winter, Charles didn’t have much warmth to protect him. He slept in the corner of another station and struggled to stay warm. He fell asleep expecting to freeze in his sleep. When he woke up he found a warm, fuzzy blanket wrapped around him. He never knew who felt enough pity to buy him the blanket that night, nor does that person know they saved Charles’s life in doing so. After a life of hardships it was refreshing to Charles to be reminded that people can be good.
Snugged into the blanket, Charles looks at the familiar faces around him. That crazy bastard, Gray, was stumbling around shirtless with only one shoe. If Charles was insane than Gray was on a different planet entirely. He saw a young college student move quick around the halls to catch her train. People always moved quickly down here at night, which he couldn’t really blame them for.
Aside from the influx of homeless, many of whom were either aggressive or out of their damn minds (himself included), the station was very much a shell of its former self. The station smelled like it hadn't been cleaned in years, some of the light hallways flickered and the retail concourse was near abandoned. Even with the problems, a place to sleep was all he needed. Besides, the smell has gotten lost on him after his prolonged exposure.
Charles glanced around to locate Levin but he was absent. The sick bastard hopefully quarantined himself before he spread more of what he had. Charles did hope he was okay, as he was looking pretty worn earlier. Charles couldn’t find Kevin neither, which he found odd since Kevin spent the majority of his time down there.
He focused his efforts back to sleep, even if it was a futile attempt. His mind drifted him towards dwelling on the day. He questioned about the virus he has, hoping it doesn’t kill him. He thinks about his past, wondering what kind of life he could’ve lived. He wondered about his mind, doubting if he can trust himself anymore. He feared he’ll forget where he is again and go back trying to find his house. Most importantly, he thought about the red door.
Hours passed like minutes for him that night. He never found a peace of mind. With everyone asleep around him, Charles sat there alone in the dark, his regrets poured in front of him and only a blanket to comfort him.
It was around three in the morning when something took him from his mind. Down the hall Charles noticed a strange, distant light. It took him a moment to recognize it as a flashlight. He presumed it to belong to a police officer, as it wasn’t uncommon for an officer or two to check in on the station in these early hours. It only regained his attention when more lights came into his view accompanied by marching footsteps.
Before Charles could figure anything out he found the room swarmed with the mysterious people. He failed even get a look before he was blinded by their lights. The flashlights rendered his mind pierced with aches as his vision was nothing except white. The invaders attempted to say something but it was inaudible to him. Charles’s unresponsiveness prompted them to forcefully grab him.
His vision returned gradually over time. Even with his vision Charles had no idea what was happening. He was dragged through hallways for what felt like an eternity. He was too sick to fight back. He heard some others trying to fight back but they didn’t stand any chance. He was finally able to get a good luck of his captors but that provided no answers. They were fairly built men in full on tactical gear, with their faces obscured by gas masks. There were no patches on them to determine who they belonged to.
Finally, they released Charles after tossing him into the back of a truck. He slammed into the metal corner of the truck. The impact forced him to cough up his last lung it felt like. He knelt over in agony, where every cough burned like a shot to the chest. After blood poured out and his throat closed up the cough finally stopped. The energy exerted made him fall into his own blood, barely able to breath anymore. He looked to his fellow captives being thrown in. When they finally shut the doors it felt like he was floating in darkness. He could hear some of them gather the energy to bang on the doors but Charles knew it was pointless.
Defeated, he laid on his back and looked into the void around him. Kevin’s warnings came back to haunt him. Of all the things Kevin could’ve been right about it had to be this one. He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t scared. He had no idea what these people were going to do but he was sane enough to know that he wouldn’t be getting out of it. This is it. Feeling himself in a panic, Charles closed his eyes in acceptance. He drowned out the truck’s movements, the begging, the fear, all of it. He took breath after breath to steady himself.
When he concentrated enough Charles finally saw it.
The house with the red door.
Charles felt like a young man again. With a drastic sense of joy he barged down the door. The family room was exactly how it should be. The coffee table was cluttered with old newspapers and his dad’s books, his brother’s toys were scattered around the floor, he could even smell the delicious sweets being made from the kitchen. He found himself dancing around the room, the brightest smile on his face. It was all so perfect.
Sinking into his couch Charles let out a childish laugh. He felt at home. This is the life he should’ve had before he threw it all away.
He knows when he opens his eyes again he’ll be thrusted into an unpleasant reality--but he doesn’t really give a damn. Until that moment he’ll savor this last moment of joy that he’ll probably ever feel in this godforsaken life. With his feet kicked up, Charles turned to face the red door. He smiles.
He wished he could stay forever.
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