I guzzled the last beer from the mini-fridge, slammed the empty can on the bar, and crushed it with my sledge hammer.
Melissa hated my man-cave. It was no surprise that, when her father died, she announced we’d be converting my only place of escape into a suite for her mother. Separate from the house, the space over our two-car garage would be perfect: it was plumbed, had heat, A/C, satellite TV. It was perfect – for me. Melissa didn’t see it that way.
“My father loved that room and you know he wanted mom to live with us when he died.”
“He wouldn’t want her living in the man-cave!”
“Ugh. Your man-cave…there’s nowhere else.” That was the end of the argument.
To convert the space into an apartment meant adding two walls and razing the bar – my beautiful, perfectly designed, one-of-a-kind bar. Demolition was miserable. Waves of grief wracked me with every swing of the sledgehammer. I pleaded with God, with my deceased father-in-law, with any invisible power: please, take this burden from me!
Unknown to me until I’d opened it with the sledge, the wall on which I’d built the backsplash for the bar counter wasn’t structural – it floated six inches from the framing of the outside wall of the garage. The space was curious, but the door I exposed in the outside wall was just senseless. The doorknob had a Batman emblem etched into it. It turned easily. Swinging silently out onto the landing of a dark, narrow stairwell, the door seemed somehow more and less impossible.
Windows lined the wall from which the door swung. I opened one and stuck my head out to look at the outside wall of the garage. The vinyl siding was uninterrupted across the place the door opened. Pulling my head back inside, I looked at the gaping door; it clearly opened to enclosed space and gloomy stairs. I slapped myself. It stung.
Shaking my head to clear it, I stood at the open door. My fingers groped unsuccessfully for a light switch in the landing. I retrieved a flashlight from one of the remaining bar drawers, flicked it on, and pointed it into the stairwell.
The boards creaked as I stepped out the landing. Light washed the treads and walls and flowed down the stairs into the murk. Refreshing and cool, the air contradicted my presumption that the space would be musty. I breathed the crisp air, and a smile replaced the frown I’d been wearing for two days. A new space, an even better man-cave. No…a lair! Testing each step, I slipped into the darkness.
The sheer blackness at the bottom of the stairs prevented me from evaluating the space, and my light failed to penetrate the pitch – refused to illuminate anything. I hit the flashlight’s switch a few times and turned the glowing end to my face. It was on, but the light would not shine past its lens.
I jumped, spun, flailed my arms. “Who’s there?”
“I mean, when was the last time you could see light but couldn’t use it to see anything else?”
“Who’s there? I…” I trailed off. He was right. How could I see the light but not anything with it? “How did you get in here? Is there another door?”
“I’ve always been here. It’s about time you built a door.”
“What? I didn’t build that door. Who are you?”
“You still can’t tell?” He clicked his tongue, “I’m disappointed.”
“Do I know you? Am I getting punked?” I swung the flashlight through the air and stepped in circles.
“Settle down; you’re not going to find anything. This is a big place, but there’s nothing in it yet.”
“I’m just a voice. And, some damn good ideas.”
“Getting out of my house would be a damn good idea.”
The voice laughed, and its familiarity surprised me.
“Unfortunately, I’m stuck here. But, since you’re keeping me here, it’s time you might as well use me. After all, this is your lair.” His voice was so much like my own.
“Right,” I reasoned, hoping to draw out him out, “My lair. And I need it because I’m losing my man cave.”
“Only temporarily. But, we need a place to plan once that bitch moves in.”
“How do you know about that?”
“Really?” He huffed. “Focus! Now: we know she’s allergic to peanuts.”
Lee Stoops likes to stir the pot and has zero tolerance for spiders or check-engine lights. He grew up building forts, disappearing into wilderness, and telling stories around campfires. He lives, teaches, and writes in Idaho with his beautiful wife and ridiculously clever son.