The picture in the Airbnb ad was the first thing that caught his attention. While most hosts feature the home they have for rent, this ad only pictured a dry desert landscape. Perfect, Greg thought. As he scrolled through the reviews, he become even more intrigued. Many were in a language he didn’t recognize but the reviews in English were positive. “This place is out of the world!” one gushed. “You’ll never want to leave!” said another. The review that finally convinced Greg to book the house read, “If you are looking for an environment that is both peaceful and life-changing, this is it.”
There had been little peace in Greg’s life since he and Lydia had broken up three weeks prior. After four years of living together, she told him it was over. No yelling, no tears: just, “I don’t love you anymore and you have to leave.” Even as Greg felt his heart being squeezed between her well-manicured fingers, he couldn’t help admiring her calm composure. Lydia dumped him as if he was one of her underperforming employees.
There was no question about who got to stay in the apartment and who had to leave. Lydia’s name was on the rental agreement and, ever since he lost his job back in August, Greg hadn’t contributed to the rent.
As he gathered his things under her watchful eyes, he was shocked at how little he actually owned. The furniture, TV, and kitchen appliances were all hers. Everything he had thought of as “ours,” really belonged to Lydia. When he had taken what was his, the apartment looked the same, as if he had never been there.
Now that he was essentially homeless and had to rely on friends to put him up, Greg tried to convince himself that being able to travel light was a good thing. He only needed his beater car and a small backpack to carry his possessions from sofa to sofa. Even so, he couldn’t help but think a man his age should have more to show for himself.
Greg knew that he would have to find a job and more permanent housing soon – two things that weren’t easy to come by in the current economy. He also knew that he needed to have a clear idea of what he wanted his new, post-Lydia life to look like. As much as he appreciated his friends’ generosity, he had very little privacy and craved quiet and solitude so he could figure things out.
A few days in the high desert was just what he needed. While many people sought vacation rentals at the beach, Greg longed for the peace and quiet of the desert. He also knew that he could afford to rent a house there for a few days. Unlike at the coast, the prices in Morongo and Yucca Valley wouldn’t make too much of a dent in his meager savings. Ignoring Lydia’s voice in his head telling him how irresponsible he was being, Greg booked the desert house for a three-night stay.
As Greg drove out of town, the lush green lawns, imposing security gates, and faux lakes of Palm Springs started to give way to natural desert landscape without the injection of imported water. He could feel his shoulders relax more with each mile, and the pain of Lydia’s rejection began to ease. He knew that he was spending money that he should be saving, but he also knew what he was doing was the right thing for him.
A half-hour later, Greg’s GPS indicated that he was close to the address of the rental. He carefully followed the prompts up a narrow, dusty road, doing his best to avoid the large ruts on either side. When the GPS told him that he had arrived, Greg slowed to a crawl and started to look to his left and right. No house. Crap, Greg thought, I hope I haven’t been taken. Not willing to give up and hear the Lydia living in his head tell him what an idiot he was, he considered his next move. He remembered passing a small convenience store a few miles back. Maybe they knew something about the house or owner.
The bell over the door announced his arrival but the man behind the counter continued to stare at his phone. Greg picked up a bag of chips, hoping a purchase would help break the screen’s spell.
“Hi. I’m looking for a house up the road, but I can’t seem to find it,” Greg said as he slid the chips and a piece of paper with the handwritten address towards the clerk.
The clerk looked at the address and smirked. “Yeah, that’s the Martin place. It’s not visible from the road; you have to park and walk up the dirt path. Once you clear the hill, you’ll see it.”
Feeling much better, Greg thanked the man and paid for his chips. As he walked out of the store, the clerk called out, “Look for the blue door.”
Greg carefully retraced his route and, once again, found himself where the GPS insisted there was a house. He parked in a little dirt lot he hadn’t noticed the first time and looked around until he saw the path the clerk had mentioned. He opened the trunk to retrieve his backpack and, as he slung it over his shoulder, wondered again how he got to the point where most of his worldly possessions could fit in such a small bag.
The path leading up the hill was partially overgrown by shrubs and covered in loose rock and dust. When Greg reached the top, he looked around for the house. Still nothing. Then, over to the right, nestled among some trees, he saw a door. No house, just a door.
Greg walked over to get a closer look. The door was set inside a frame and stood straight up with no visible signs of support. The robin’s egg blue paint looked new, but the brass doorknob was tarnished and showed signs of wear. As he slowly circled around the frame, he could see that it was no thicker than a typical door that might be found in a normal home. But, there was nothing normal about it. At all. Feeling a little ridiculous, he cautiously knocked. When he heard footsteps approaching from the other side, his first instinct was to run.
Before Greg could turn away, the door was opened by a small man whose bald head barely reached the middle of Greg’s chest. Although the man’s unnaturally small mouth held no hint of a smile, his large eyes looked friendly.
“Are you Mr. Martin?” Greg asked cautiously. “I’m Greg Trent. I have reservations for your Airbnb.”
“Oh, yes! I have been expecting you. Come in.” The little man opened the door fully to reveal black and white tile covering the floor of what appeared to be a large room. Greg quickly stepped back from the door and looked behind it. Nothing. He looked inside the room again and saw that the space was so vast no walls were visible; he could only see the checkerboard floor stretching off into the distance.
Greg hesitated to step inside and tried to stall for time as his mind worked to find the logic of what he was seeing. “Um… my reservation is for three nights. What is the check-out time on Wednesday?” he asked, even though he knew the answer.
“Oh, you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave,” the man replied.
As Greg drew a startled breath, Mr. Martin let out a laugh. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, “I couldn’t resist. It just cracks me up to see people’s expressions when I say that. Check out time is 10 a.m.” Then, he added, “But, really, you may not want to leave. Many have chosen to stay. Let’s see how you feel on Wednesday.”
As the man spoke, Greg noticed a wave of peace flowing throughout his body and he realized that his stress from the last few weeks had disappeared. He had sudden clarity that there was nothing behind him to lose and endless possibilities ahead. He hitched up his backpack and, after taking one last look over his shoulder, crossed the door’s threshold and followed the odd little man towards wherever the black and white tiles led.