Padma was a delightful woman. She had every reason to be, for her life was pristine: a handsome and kind husband, two loving daughters, a job she loved going to every morning. Though her love for all of those things ran deep, her real pride and joy came in the form of her house.
It had been inherited from her late father and happened to be the most dazzling house in the state; baby blue shutters framed the crisp white exterior, while a porch hugged the second-floor windows and doors, and grand white columns stood strong beside the front door. Daffodils trimmed the front walkway, while two large oak trees guarded the sides of the house, though they did nothing to conceal the glorious home. Inside awaited even more marvels. The house opened into a foyer that showcased the grand spiral staircase and floor-to-ceiling windows that sunlight spilled through every morning. The main floor housed an enormous kitchen: a stove with eight burners, double islands, a walk-in refrigerator and creamy white cabinets. The second floor possessed eight bedrooms and eight baths. Each room was decorated with only the finest of furniture as well as provided access to the second-floor porch. The basement held a mini bowling alley, a movie theater that seated 10, a workout room with every workout machine anyone could ever desire, and a vast pool table that sat in the middle of it all.
Padma adored her house but one room sparked a particular feeling of intrigue. Her husband Zack’s workroom.
When they first moved into the house, Zack claimed one of the rooms in the basement as his workroom. The smallest of all the rooms in the basement, its door had tucked itself into the farthest corner.
Padma agreed to give the room to Zack because of its size and thought nothing of it.
The only thing Zack asked of her and her daughters is that they never step foot in there; he told them many dangerous and unstable items rested there, which made sense to Padma. After all, he was a chemist. Padma and her daughters agreed, but every day that passed in her beloved house, Padma grew more and more curious about the room. Last winter, she came close to opening the door, only for Zack to grab her wrist, wrenching it away.
Padma gasped, her breaths quick and startled.
“Honey,” he growled, the vein in his neck pulsing, his eyes seconds away from bulging from his head, “what did I tell you about the door?”
“I’m sorry, I was just curious,” Padma said, frightened. He inhaled and loosened his grip on her wrist, before caressing her cheek, the kindness in his eyes returning.
“We have to trust each other, OK? I respect your privacy, you respect mine.”
Padma looked down, shaking her head a little bit ashamed and still frightened. “It won’t happen again. I promise.”
“It’s OK, honey. I love you. OK?” He said before leaning in to kiss her. That night he made love to Padma, though different from other nights. That night, he did it as if to say he was sorry for the way he grabbed and frightened her. Before he fell asleep, he’d kissed Padma again, once again whispering “I’m sorry” against her lips.
Lying next to Zack’s slumbering body, Padma pondered. Her curiosity about what waited behind the door only increased. What is hiding in there?
The first day of spring brought chorusing birds and sweet, honey-colored flowers to Padma’s home. It also brought her good friend Evangeline. Evangeline had never been inside Padma’s house before; she had only listened to Padma gush about how wonderful and beautiful and like a dream it all was. The minute Evangeline arrived at Padma’s house, she started the grand tour. They started on the main floor, making their way to the kitchen where Zack leaned over the countertop eating an apple, a glass of whiskey set in front of him.
“Hello, Evangeline, how have you been?” Zack said between a bite of apple.
“I’m doing well and yourself?”
“I’m doing great,” he looked over at Padma, “Honey, I will be in my workroom.” He said walking toward the basement entrance. Before exiting the kitchen, he leaned into Padma and whispered into her ear, his breath the intoxicating aroma of a sweet and tart apple mixed with sharp and rough whiskey. “Remember, honey. Do. Not. Open. My. Door.”
He leaned back, smiling as if he just teased her with a less than innocent comment. Padma nodded before he kissed her on the cheek and made his way to the basement.
Evangeline fawned over everything in the house from the gold-trimmed corbels and molding to the bronze ceiling to floor fireplace. When they arrived at the basement, awe consumed Evangeline’s features anew. She oohed and ahhed at everything from the three-lane bowling alley to the movie theater fully stocked with candy and popcorn.
“What’s in there?” Evangeline asked, pointing to Zack’s door.
“Oh, that’s Zack’s workroom.”
“Oh, may I see it?” Evangeline asked while reaching for the doorknob.
Padma caught Evangeline’s wrist, pushing her away from the ominous door. “No, he has asked that no one go in there but him.”
“But don’t you ever just peek in there?”
“No. I respect my husband’s privacy,” Padma said, releasing Evangeline’s wrist. Evangeline shrugged and headed back toward the stairs.
Padma followed Evangeline back to the main level but not before stealing a glance at the corner of the basement where the door of her husband’s mysterious workroom loomed.
That night, sleep did not come to Padma; though it teased her as hours passed, her eyes drooping slightly, her body feeling relaxed and airy, sleep never did stay. Evangeline’s words played on a loop in her mind. Just a peek? Surely one peek wouldn’t hurt anyone, would it?
She sat up in her bed, her movements slow and cautious to keep Zack asleep. But then, at the very back of her mind, a voice spoke: This isn’t right, do not open that door. She paused, considering what the voice had just said. Everything will be fine, she replied. The worst that could happen is me finding a gift and spoiling a surprise.
She swung her legs over the side of the bed, slipped into her silk dressing gown, and slid her feet into her slippers. Without a creak or groan, she made her way down the spiral staircase, crossing over to the little hallway that granted access to the basement stairwell. She flipped the switch sitting just above the stairs and made her way down. Padma’s spine prickled, her stomach beginning to feel sour, as her heart began an unsteady dance against her ribs. She reached the bottom stair. A certain chill coated the basement in the dark hours of night, as if things could be squatting in the shadows along the walls and around the corners. The basement always smelled new, like wood and faintly of paint. Tonight, it seemed that smell had been scared off, leaving nothing but uncertainty in the air.
“I have nothing to be afraid of, this is my house,” she whispered, trying to soothe her fear. Padma crossed the middle of the basement, past the now abandoned workout room, the pitch-black movie theater, and the now eerie bowling alley that a single spotlight illuminated. She finally reached the door. The door that she never opened. The door she had been told not to open. The door that stood in front of her begging to be opened.
Anticipation and fear coursed through her veins while her hands trembled and perspiration began to gather on her brow. A whisper of her fingers touched the doorknob before she paused.
Just open it. It’s probably nothing but test tubes and a whiteboard.
She began turning the knob but stopped again. No, I can’t do this. This is a violation of Zack’s privacy.
She turned away from the door and began crossing the basement back to the stairs.
Then again, what’s one peek going to do? She ran back to the door, this time grabbing the handle and pushing it all the way open.
The world went silent around Padma; her legs threatened to fail her, her stomach seconds away from emptying itself. The room smelled of copper, bleach and something else she couldn’t quite place, while the only source of light came from the flickering fluorescent ceiling bulb. Her hand came up to cover her mouth that drew into a large O. Bins of limbs lined the sides of the room, the protruding hands and feet faded, blue and peeling, skin hanging off like a half-peeled banana. Some fingers that weren’t completely peeled had chipped nail polish, while others were plain and short. All of the pale feet were twisted in a less than natural manner, making her think of when her oldest daughter broke her foot when she took a tumble down the stairs. Heads hung from the ceiling, suspended expressions of fear and distress permanently etched into their features, framed by dry, dull and thinning hair. She looked to her left and saw something that resembled a bathtub. In the bathtub, the remains of an older white man lay. His skin, presumably melted off, floated in globs around the tub. Half of his face revealed his skeleton, while the other side resembled the wax of a burning candle. In the middle of the room stood a metal table. Test tubes, flutes, Bunsen burners and goggles piled upon it. She glanced at the test tubes and saw a clear, bubbling liquid in them.
Padma stepped back, almost tripping on her own feet, trying to make her way back outside, away from the horror. Her breaths were short and choppy, her vision starting to blur. Her heart was going to explode, and all Zack would find would be pieces of her dripping from the walls and ceilings. Maybe he would use the pieces of her for one of his experiments. He’s a monster, she thought. Her beautiful house, her wonderful, beautiful house had been tainted by her husband’s gruesome and monstrous secret. Once she closed the door back, careful not to slam it out of fear, she leaned against the wall; her hand rested on her heart trying to force air back into her lungs. She needed to make it back upstairs. Using the wall as a crutch, she made her way back up the stairs. Finally, she made it back to her bedroom, laying back down next to Zack, trying not to awaken the beast. He shifted, throwing one arm around her abdomen, trapping her.
She didn’t breathe.
Convinced he still slept, thanks to the soft sound of his snoring, she exhaled. Padma stared at the ceiling, paralyzed, and said to herself: “I never should have opened that door.”