A sliver of light seeps into a dark room through dark fabric that is duct taped over a small window. Gregory lies in bed underneath the window with his silhouetted back to us, fast asleep in his darkened apartment.
Actually, his “apartment” is nothing but a bed, a dresser, and a mini-fridge with a TV on top located opposite the laundry, next to the furnace, and behind a barrier of boxed, forgotten junk down in his parent’s unfinished basement. And this has been his apartment since finishing college and failing miserably at finding a job, as is evidenced by the fact that he is still sleeping and about to miss yet another interview.
A hesitant knocking commences at his apartment’s front, and only, door; which is, of course, the basement door located at the top of the stairs.
The door and the stairway leading up to it are dark, except for a thin beam of light leaking in from the gap between the door and the floor. Shadows, cast by the diminutive feet of Gregory’s soft-spoken mother on the other side of the door, waver in with the beam.
In a loud (at least for her), sing-song voice she says, “Greggy? I hope you’re awake and ready for your—”
She is cut off by loud, angry feet marching toward the door. More shadows leak in with the light, and then the knocking gets serious.
“Gregory,” his father hollers in his deep, world-weary voice, “I warn you, son, if you miss another interview… you and all your god damn video games will be out on the street before lunch.”
Angry feet march away from the door.
Gregory finally begins to stir. It’s a slow-motion process; a slacker wake-up ritual of sorts. He buries his head under his pillow before his silhouetted arm emerges from under the warm covers and switches on a study lamp that is clamped to a furnace pipe and which stretches out over his head.
He kicks off the covers and reveals the body of a mid-sized, thin but muscularly defined, mid-twenties, African-American male. He does some cat-like stretching and then concludes his ritual with some aggressive eye-rubbing underneath the pillow. While doing so, he seems to notice something strange about his hands.
He holds them over his head and looks up at them from under the pillow. He flips them over and inspects both sides of them as if he’s never seen them before. He sits up on his elbows and looks down at his bare upper torso. He sees the scars of five bullet holes and an assortment of tattoos littered across his brown abdomen. The most prominent tattoo, “Thug Life,” arches across the muscle-ripped gut.
“Greggy, are you hungry? I can make you your favorite blueberry and peanut butter pancakes…”
He pulls up the band of his underwear and take a curious peek at his package. “No thanks, Mom. I’ll just grab something on my way out.”
The mother screams as if the most horrific thing in the world that could happen to her has just happened. “Daddy! Daddy! Come quick. There’s someone in the basement.”
From somewhere farther away than the other side of the door, the father’s incessant complaint machine fires back up. “Jesus Christ, what the hell is it now?”
“I-I don’t know… There’s someone downstairs hollering.”
Angry feet once again stomp toward the door.
“What do you mean someone?” the father asks sarcastically. “It’s just your spoiled brat of a son pissed off because he has to wake up before two in the afternoon.”
The door handle rattles.
“God damn it. I don’t know why that boy always has to lock the god damn door.”
The door shakes and the handle rattles louder.
“What does he think we’re gonna do? Go down to that hell-hole bedroom of his on purpose? Gregory, open this god damn door right now!”
“But… It wasn’t Greggy… It… it was someone else.”
“Ah, geez, there you go again. Always blowing things out of proportion. Gregory! What the hell is going on down there?!”
Gregory switches the lamp off and slides back down into the bed… into the darkness.
“Everything’s okay, Dad,” Gregory says with contentment. “I’ll be up in a minute.”
Upstairs, the father, who looks to be in his mid-forties, who looks to be like he was once in decent shape, and who not only looks to be but is white, now agrees with his wife… Whoever that is downstairs, it definitely is not his son.
“Jesus Christ, babe. You’re right. There is someone down there. I-I couldn’t understand what he was hollering about but it sounds like he’s… black.”
“I know I know I know,” the now hysterical mother cries out. “You got to do something, Daddy.”
The father mobilizes into action.
First, he takes his wife – who is also white and in her early-forties but trying hard to look younger – by the shoulders and leads her away from the basement door and sets her down on the living room couch.
On the wall above the couch, there are various photos – senior yearbook, high school graduation, college graduation, and others – presumably of Gregory as he was when he was still their white, blond-haired, hazel-eyed son.
The father then rushes down the hall and ducks into their bedroom. He slides a drawer open, rummages through it, and then pulls out a gun and ammunition. He loads a clip into a gun, chambers a round, and then slams the drawer back shut. He comes out of the bedroom holding his gun like he knows exactly how to use it.
The mother sees the weapon and her hysterics kick back in. “What are you doing… I thought they took tha… Shouldn’t you just call this in– can’t we just call 911?”
Like the out-of-shape former cop that he is, the father covers down the room and positions himself with his back against the wall next to the basement door. He cocks his head so that he can best hear any activity down below. His oil-sheened pistol is held readied for action.
“Not here, babe,” he says as if talking to the door. “I want you to run quick to the neighbors and call from there. No matter what you hear, though, do not come back in this house until I say it’s okay. Okay?”
He looks over to his wife to make sure she is following orders. But she didn’t hear him. She is in shock and, for the time being, lost to this world.
He tampers down his frustration with his wife’s on-cue dramatics and returns his attention to the door. He speaks slowly and clearly to it. “Gregory… Are you okay, son?
Down in the basement, Gregory is still lying in bed in the dark.
“No, Dad, everything is not all okay,” he says rapturously. “In fact, everything is completely fucked up. But now… now I understand why. And I know exactly what I— what we need to do about it.”
“Look, I don’t know who you are or why you are in my basement; but, please, I need to know that my son is okay,” the father demands from the other side of the door.
Gregory sits up on an elbow and looks through the darkness toward the direction of the stairs. “Dad, really, I’m fine. In fact, I feel great. I’m serious. I know exactly what we need to do now.”
“Sir, if you would please just stop hollering and calm down. I can’t understand what you’re talking about. But, look, if this is about what happened… the shooting…” The tone in the father’s voice loses some of its edge. “I-I’m sorry about it but, you know, my actions… the proceedings… they were justified.” The edge returns. “Look, I’ll explain everything. I’ll do whatever you want. Just please don’t hurt my son.”
Gregory sits all the way up and swings his legs off the bed. The covers fall to the floor. He stands up and begins walking. In the dark he appears wraith-like, spirit-like. He reaches the stairs and looks up at the light.
“No one is hurt, Father. In fact, no one ever has to get hurt again. We can make sure of it. You and I… together.”
“Okay, sir, I hear you. I understand. But you have got listen to me, okay. The world is not against you. No one is against you right now. It’s just you and me. Talking. All we have to do is stay calm so we can talk and figure this out, okay?”
“Father, it’s you who must listen to me. I told you, I’ve already got it all figured out and I’m coming up now so we can talk about it.” Gregory begins to slowly climb the stairs.
The father hears footsteps pounding up the stairs in a rush toward him. He springs off the wall and pivots around holding his pistol in two hands stretched out before him taking steady aim at the door.
“Don’t open the door, sir,” the father warns in a low growl that almost seems to be saying – bring it on.
Gregory reaches the landing and unlocks the door. “Father, I have no choice.”
Sirens can be heard wailing faintly in the distance. It appears to the father as if the person is now trying to crash a shoulder through the door.
“Yeah? Well, fuck you, too, motherfucker. I’ll blow your thug nigger head off if you come through that door.”
Gregory, smiling, swings the door open slowly. Bright light floods in over him. “Father,” he says euphorically. “It’s a miracle…”
The basement door bursts open. The father unloads his entire clip into a doorway filled only with a black nothingness. Unseen within the black nothingness, a body thuds to the floor and then tumbles violently down the stairs.
There is a moment of ugly silence, stillness, and then the father has a devastating, painful, epiphany. Shaking, he looks at his gun with fear. Its empty clip slides out and falls to the floor. He pulls a fresh clip out of his pocket and carefully loads it into the gun. He chambers a round. He walks like a heartbroken zombie to the basement doorway, and then, after some hesitation, disappears into the black nothingness.
Footsteps slowly descend the stairs. After the footsteps stop, there is a moment of painful silence.
Then, a final gunshot.
The mother sits motionless on the couch, frozen, staring blankly at the black nothingness of the basement doorway.
The sirens are close now and getting closer.