Out of the Box
A Short Story by Doug Dean
Written using the suggestion "Black"
Originally featured on 06-12-2007
As part of our series "Checkered"

She’s locked herself in her room. It’s been a day and a half. This isn’t the first time and the authorities haven’t become involved. I’m sitting in the living room watching my father pretend to watch the television. He’s holding a glass of Southern comfort. The light generated by the television — the only light in the room — is a schizophrenic flicker. He sips, winces, and exhales.

“I think she’s painting it,” I say.

He doesn’t respond, just takes another sip.

“The smells are coming through the door into the hallway. It almost made me sick last night.”

My father’s beard is blondish in tint and looks ragged. I know that he trims it but it still looks ragged. Maybe it’s because he’s a carpenter.

“I knocked on the door yesterday afternoon.” His green eyes meet mine. “She didn’t open.” He tilts his head back and exhales.

We hear the click and turn at the same time. Then the whine of the door hinges. I get up and walk past him, stepping over his outstretched legs, to the doorway.

“Julia?” I say and then I see her.

My half-sister is fourteen years old. She has lived six of those years with our father and me. Before that, she was with her mother.

She waves her hand at me, beckoning me down the hallway. I hate the lighting in this hallway. The uncovered bulb is too bright and even though I know to look downward it still burns my peripheral vision. My nose also burns from the unfiltered fumes pouring into the hallway. I turn back to look at my father who is watching me. He grins and waves me off.

I reach Julia and she smiles. “It’s so cool. It took like five coats.” She giggles.

Her room is completely black. I’m afraid to step over the crisp line created by the threshold the same as I’d be afraid to step into a black hole. All the way from the carpet to the doorway trim, the line is perfect and beyond it is just blackness. Eyes wide, I cannot make out a single shape within the black.

“C’mon, check it out.” She smiles. I feel her take my hand as I stare and then she pulls me into it. After a few steps in, I start to feel around. I can touch the chair to her desk and moving forward her bed. Everything is in the same place as it was. The bright light in the hallway creates a perfect white rectangle and yet none of the light seems to dare cross the border.

I can see Julia, but just barely.

“Watch this,” she says. She reaches into the blackness and flips some invisible switch and a lamp is on. I focus on it but it, too, is completely dark. I can kind of see the shape of it. I take a step towards it and the silhouette becomes slightly clearer. It looks like it is made of dark chocolate. I turn and notice the same is true. This lamp, which three days ago comfortably lit Julia’s entire room now barely illuminates anything. I look down and can see myself clearly, almost as clearly as in the hall but below my feet is nothingness. I turn and I can see Julia — her jeans, her tee-shirt her white socks. She tries to hold back a smile.

“This is fucking freaky, Julia.” Loud giggle.

“I just felt this way and I wanted to make it real,” she says.

“Felt what way?”

“Closed in, boxed in, colorless — like I was living inside a period mark, or something. It felt like I was in this black box. So I decided to make it look like a real black box. But the blacker I made it the bigger it looked. Maybe I was when I started but I’m not depressed. I love it in here.”

“There’s a lot of fumes in here.” Louder giggle.

“That’s not why, silly.”

We hear the creak and turn at the same time. My dad is standing in the doorway. His silhouette is so crisp. Perhaps the most crisp he’s ever looked. Standing between the whiteness and blackness, every color on him looks like it is the first of its kind.

“Can I come in Julia?” he says.

“Yeah, Dad.”

He steps slowly from light to dark and floats on the darkness with us. It seems like there should be a limit to how many people this nothingness can hold up.

“There’s a lot of fumes in here,” he says and then we all laugh for a while.

We all pause after that. I start to move about and touch Julia’s black things. I do so almost as if I’m afraid of touching them. I watch my hand cut through blackness until I feel it touch fabric or wood or glass.

My dad sits Indian style in the middle of the darkness, grinning and swiveling his head. Taking it all in. Then he speaks.

“I get it. It feels bigger. It’s spacious.”

“So you’ll let me keep it like this for awhile?” she says.

“I’m going to do the same thing to some of the other rooms as well.” He gets up. “I’m going to get more black paint. But when I get back, perhaps you two would help me blacken the kitchen?”

Julia and I smile and I nod.

“Great.” I watch as he walks to the edge of the blackness and pauses before stepping over.



“Here do you want to do the last stroke?” my dad asks holding out the brush.

I take the brush and dip it in the paint. I stroke back and forth and as it blackens the aluminum siding, the crowd of people behind me seems to gasp.

I turn and he’s already shaking two cans of spray paint. He hands one to Julia and she kneels and starts on the lawn. I take the other and start on the shrubs.

I can hear some of the people’s voices over the spray sound. Some are saying nasty things. It doesn’t bother me because I know that floating on nothingness inside are enough cookies and milk to feed all of them. The one’s that don’t come in right away will have to cure their curiosity eventually.

Read More By Doug Dean

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