Despite the mild summer night and the added warmth offered to him by the fire, Frank could feel goose bumps beginning to crawl up both of his arms. He savored the feeling and, with a little shiver, smiled as he continued to listen. His friend, Tyler, told the story like a boy possessed, flailing his long arms wildly, stopping now and then only to brush a thick shock of blonde hair out of his face and then push forward. He was just about to get to the good part.
Tyler's voice shrank to a barely audible whisper, the fire casting dancing shadows across his face, and all of the boys leaned in for the grand finale. "They hanged her right here, somewhere in these woods. It's said that sometimes, on still moonlit nights, just like tonight, you can catch a glimpse of her lifeless body still swinging from the trees. If you do, don't look directly at her, because she will look straight back at you. You'll see all the horrors of the universe in that instant. That is when you'll go to her, and then... then, you will wish you'd never been born."
Frank's pulse thumped hard in his head, his entire body numb. None of them moved or made a sound. It was just at that moment when Tyler pointed toward the woods and yelled out, "OH MY GOD WHAT IS THAT?" The entire group turned and screamed, almost all at once, as Tyler fell back on the ground howling in amusement. Riotous laughter then erupted from the rest of the group, including Frank, all of them relishing the crash of adrenaline.
Jimmy Beasley, still struggling to compose himself, challenged his friend. "How many times are you gonna tell that one, Tyler? I thought you'd have something new by now."
"Oh yeah?" Tyler shot back. "Well how about you, butternuts? You got any of your own?"
Jimmy smirked and didn't say anything at first, but then finally replied, "Yeah, yeah I do. How about The Door?"
All of the boys pulled in a short, almost inaudible gasp at the mention of The Door. Since all of them started attending the Pine Lakes Summer Camp years earlier, the legend of The Door persisted more than any other. On the north end of the grounds, where the campers generally were not allowed to go, a large brick building served as the counselors' quarters. The camp's main office and several small rooms for the camp coaches and counselors were housed within. However, on the back side of the quarters, the side facing the woods, where few dared to tread, stood the source of their tall tale: The Door.
This door was a source of mystery and terror, and its legend grew as the years went on. Large and imposing, its wooden frame filling the wall like an angry giant, The Door had no equal. Some said that a camper got himself trapped in there several years ago and went insane, while others said that it was the site of a gruesome murder. Still, others, the really bold ones, claimed it to be a portal to Hell itself. The truth was, the story itself never really mattered all that much, because whatever variant was told, they all ended the same way.
If you were to approach this door, and if you were brave (or stupid) enough, you could knock three times. If you were lucky, you would hear two knocks in return from the inside. This would mean that heaven had smiled down on you and your life would be spared. However, if when you knocked you only heard one in return, you would have just enough time to ponder your own dreadful fate before The Door would swing open, and some unspeakable horror would drag you inside, never to be heard from again.
It was a good story, that much was true. It had all the makings of a great campfire tale, but the thing that most helped it to endure over the years was the fact that none of the campers had ever seen anyone going into or coming out of The Door. Some claimed to have worked up the courage to actually knock on it, and there were those who even said they knew someone who went missing after approaching The Door. Whether or not any of these anecdotes held an ounce of truth to them didn't matter. The Door continued to stand, and its legend continued to grow.
Tyler seemed to consider Jimmy's suggestion, but then scoffed. "Oh come on, we've heard that one a million times. And you want to complain about my stories being old?"
"Yeah," Frank said, finally speaking up, "besides, that story is nothing but a bunch of B.S. anyway. It's just a stupid door."
Immediately, Frank regretted opening his big mouth. Jimmy looked him straight in the eye. "Is that so? Well Frankie, how about you put your money where your mouth is and show us how stupid it is?" Frank sighed, wondering how he got himself into these messes. He had no desire to go anywhere near the door, but he'd thrown down the gauntlet, and Jimmy called him on it. All of the boys looked at him and, one by one, began to chide him into taking up Jimmy's challenge.
After a few minutes of this, Frank relented and chose to accept his fate. He brought this on himself after all, so he figured he might as well face the music. All of the boys got up, and with Frank and Jimmy leading the way with a small lamp, they walked toward the counselor's quarters. Toward The Door.
At first everyone was jovial, laughing and pushing each other around, but as the group drew closer to the building, silence overtook them. Very gradually they all slowed down, until Frank stopped just before turning the corner to face the monstrous threshold.
"Frankie," Tyler said from behind him, "look, it's all right. You don't have to do this. We won't hold it against you. Let's just go back to the cabin and play some cards or something, okay?"
Before Frank could reply, Jimmy spoke up. "Sure Frankie, you can turn around and go back. Then, when we go to lunch tomorrow, I'll make sure and tell Rachel how you chickened out. How does that sound?"
Frank wanted to stop and punch Jimmy right in the mouth, but the mention of Rachel's name steeled his will to keep going. With all the courage he could muster, he walked forward and slipped around the corner of the building. The other boys peered around the corner after him, but would go no further. Frank saw The Door immediately, its dark brown wood reflecting the sinister moonlight. As he grew closer, he could almost feel the hatred physically emanating from the cruel forces waiting behind it. He forced himself to keep walking and, before long, the monolithic slab stood there before him.
The really hard part was that he couldn't just knock and run. That would be worse than turning around would have been, because the whole point of knocking was to see what he would get in return. He would be doubly ridiculed for bailing. It was as if his entire life hung in the balance. Two knocks and he would go back a hero, grow old, get married, and die of old age. One knock, andů well, it was too awful to think about. Either option seemed better then being labeled a coward, though, and so he made his decision. His arm trembled, but Frank managed to ball his hand up into a fist and held it up in front of the door.
Knock, knock, knock.
The last knock reverberated in his head, sending vibrations all the way down to his feet and then back up again. He held his breath and waited.
Frank didn't wait to find out if there would be a second knock, consequences be damned. He chose instead to tear off running around the side of the house as if his life depended on it (in his mind, it absolutely did). Everyone else could go to hell. He didn't care if they made clucking noises at him for the rest of his days, he was not sticking around. Somewhere far away, like a television playing in another room, he vaguely heard his friends running behind him, screaming at the top of their lungs. It wasn't until they were safely inside the cabin, sweaty and out of breath, that he realized they all had made it back okay.
Whatever horrors waited behind the door had apparently decided to grant them a reprieve. Frank smiled, and after laughing the rest of the night away with his friends, he enjoyed the best night's sleep he'd ever had. Not a single person ever blamed him for running.
The years passed and, over time, the excitement of that night faded away into the recesses of his memory. Frank, now a tall and lanky teenager, left the ways of his childhood behind him like all young men eventually do. Still, he was never able to completely forget the best memories from his days at summer camp. That's why, when he began looking for ways to waste away the long summer months, returning to Pine Lakes as a counselor seemed like the only logical thing to do.
It was only a couple of days into his first week there in his new role when Frank was asked to take the campers on a hike. Thrilled to get back out into the woods, Frank agreed and asked where he could find the first aid kits before he left. When the camp coordinator told him to look in the supply closet, Frank only returned a puzzled look until she led him to a red, steel door in the back of the quarters. When he opened it up and turned on the lights, he saw something that knocked the wind right out of him, something that threatened to completely shut down his mind for good.
There before him, in all of its malevolence, was The Door.
At first, it was all Frank could do to stand there and gape, shocked by what he was seeing. Slowly, his brain caught up with his eyes and worked to make some sense of the thing. It was the same, but not the same. For one, it was a lighter shade of brown, and also smoother and less weathered than he remembered. More importantly, the orientation of the handle was opposite from what he remembered. Finally, the realization hit him that he was looking at the door from the other side. Understanding washed over him, and it was all Frank could do not to fall on the ground laughing when he recalled the events of that fateful evening.
As if on cue, Frank heard shuffling just outside the door and the voices of several young campers. "Go on and do it, you big sissy!" he heard one of them say. Frank waited patiently, and sure enough, it came.
Knock, knock, knock.
He grinned, and after a moment, with all the strength he could muster, delivered a single hard blow in return.