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The Door

Ruth Rezos with models of comic characters from Mutts: feline named Mooch and dog named Earl. She is a retired disability policy analyst who enjoys life in Sacramento with her husband and two cats.

Editor's note: This is a departure from the normal article. — it is a piece of fiction — enjoy.

The name's Jack. On a good day, I'm a hardboiled detective. Other days, more like egg salad. That's right, I'm a gumshoe, but not how you'd think. Yep, I tend to step in it, chewy, gooey gum.

When business is slow, I walk, often down Dead Cat Alley in Old Sacramento if I can find it. It's not on any map. Start at K Street, take a twist at the Firehouse restaurant, squeeze between buildings, and if you're lucky, there it is, a cobbled street flanked by Gold Rush era brick buildings. A grim, gritty place. No doors, no windows, nothing. It's a great place to think over cases. But one day that changed.

I was in a funk, no business, no money, so I took my empty pockets down the alley. True to form I had managed to step on gum, so my feet made that sound on the cobbles, clop-pop, clop-pop. Looking for a stick or twig to clean them, I did a double take. There was a door. Right there in a wall, about midway down the alley. I had never seen it before. Curious, I took a closer look. I rubbed my sleeve across the dusty window in the door and peered inside. I saw a room stacked with old books, taxidermy animals, antique bottles and other oddities. I turned the doorknob. It clicked open. I went inside.

A haze hung in the air. I slowly took in the view. Many of the curios had labels. Among them were a Phoenix Egg*, the sword Excalibur**, the wand of the Blue Fairy***, the hat worn by Puss in Boots, the needle that contains the soul of Deathless Koschei****, even a yellowed tooth from a minotaur.*****

"Hello! Is anybody here?" I called.

After much throat clearing and foot shuffling, a smallish man appeared out of the gloom, clothed in eighteenth century military garb and a tattered tri-corner hat with a moth-eaten feather on top. He had bushy eyebrows and a bushy mustache, and laugh lines around his bright, beady eyes. He looked like a peach that had been left in the sun.

"Can I help you?" he asked in a vaguely dusky voice. I didn't recognize the accent. Taken aback, I said nothing.

"Oh, I know exactly what you need!" he said cheerfully. "Your cat needs a new collar. I have just the one!"

How'd he know that my goofy cat, Templeton, needed a new collar? A young and playful boy, he'd shredded his collar, wrestling with his kitty housemate, Dodger. The shriveled-peach gentleman rooted around. Eventually he shambled out with a pinkish leather cat collar in his hand.

"How much?" I asked.

He bought out a dusty bluish glass bottle. "Just exhale once into this and the collar is yours," he replied. Well, since my wallet was empty, I agreed. He popped the cork and said, "Blow away, my boy!" Not knowing exactly what to expect, I blew nervously into it. It felt odd, as if something had gone out of me. The old fellow quickly resealed the bottle. Smiling, he gave me the collar and bid me adieu.

As I left Dead Cat Alley (clop-pop, clop-pop), an empty place seemed to rattle around inside me, and I couldn't shake the memory of the mysterious door into the shop right out of the past. And those eyes, what color were they anyway? When I got home, I poured a shot of old Jim Beam and called, "Hey Templeton, I've got a new collar for you. I hope you like it!"


I took the ratty old collar off the longhaired feline (he seemed surprised, but he always had a perpetually amazed look on his face), and buckled the new collar on him. It threw off a pinkish-purplish-bluish-startlighty sort of glow.

"Well, how do you like it?" I asked the kitty.

"I like it fine," Templeton replied. "Where did you get it?"

I spit up my bourbon. Clearly, this was no ordinary collar. After the coughing fit passed, I replied, "From a shop on Dead Cat Alley."

"Oh yeah," Templeton replied. "All the cats know about that place. How much did you pay?"

"Um…" I stammered, "I traded one breath for it."

"Ohhhh," he rumbled. "That's bad, real bad. You gotta return that collar right away. And by the way, why did you name me after a RAT?"

"It's a compliment. I named you after a character in one of my favorite children's books, Charlotte's Web. Besides, I don't want to take the collar back. I want to chat with you! It will be great fun to see the world from your point of view. Who knows? Maybe we could go on the road and make tons of money. I'd share the profits with you fifty-fifty, of course. Anyway, what's wrong with the collar? I think it's really neat!"

Templeton answered, "I don't have much to say, so you won't miss talking to me, but I gotta tell you, you didn't just exhale into a bottle. Brother, you gave away part of your soul. The only way to get it back is to return the collar."

Well, that was a pretty high price to pay, so I took that collar back down Dead Cat Alley. It took a while to find it — usually does. When I finally did, no door in the wall appeared. I backed out and went back in. On the fourth try, the door was there. I hurried inside. "I'd like to return this collar," I told the mystery man.

"Sorry, no returns," he replied, "but I can give you store credit." I had no intention of buying anything else from this mind-bending shop, but I gave the guy the collar. He painstakingly began to scrawl out a credit voucher on a ratty piece of parchment. While he was distracted, I noted the dusty blue bottle on a shelf within reach, so I grabbed it and beat a path out of that place. Outside the shop, I turned and noticed that the door was gone, which somehow did not surprise me. Popping the cork, I inhaled and breathed in the contents of the bottle. Whatever it was (I'm a bit skeptical about souls), it seemed to swirl about inside me and settle into the empty place.

It was too weird. I hustled out of the alley. On the way out, I stepped in gum.

At home, Templeton met me with his usual wide-eyed expression, his tail held high. "Hey, Templeton," I said, "I took the collar back. I will miss chatting with you, though." He rubbed his luxurious furry black and white self against my leg, purring like an engine. "Mrowww!"

Not long after that, I spied both cats playing in the sunroom, meowing as they wrestled. I headed upstairs to rest, trying to make sense of this whole crazy episode. I'd swear I heard very faint voices coming from downstairs. For all I know, it was simply an auditory hallucination. And yet…


Templeton turned to Dodger, "Do you think Jack bought it?"
The cats just smiled.

~ By Ken Nahigian and Ruth Rezos

*** Footnotes ***

*The Phoenix Egg is inspired by Greek mythology, which tells of a bird of beauty reborn from the flames of destruction, thus becoming a symbol of hope, immortality, and spiritual rebirth.

**Excalibur is the mythical sword of King Arthur that may be attributed with magical powers or associated with the rightful sovereignty of Britain.

***The Blue Fairy's Wand is a magical item featured on ABC's Once Upon a Time. It first appears in the fifth episode of the first season. The Blue Fairy's wand is based on the item of the same name from the Disney film Pinocchio.

****Koshchei - often given the epithet "the Immortal, or "the Deathless" (Russian: Бессме́ртный), is an archetypal male antagonist in Russian folklore. The most common feature of tales involving Koschei is a spell which prevents him from being killed. He hides "his death" inside nested objects to protect it. For example, his death may be hidden in a needle that is hidden inside an egg, the egg is in a duck, the duck is in a hare, the hare is in a chest, the chest is buried or chained up on a far island. Usually he takes the role of a malevolent rival figure, who competes for (or entraps) a male hero's love interest.

*****Minotaurus [miːnoːˈtau̯rʊs]) - a mythical creature portrayed during classical antiquity with the head and tail of a bull and the body of a man or, as described by Roman poet Ovid, a being "part man and part bull." He dwelt at the center of the Labyrinth, which was an elaborate maze-like construction designed by the architect Daedalus and his son Icarus, on the command of King Minos of Crete. The Minotaur was eventually killed by the Athenian hero Theseus.





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