The thought burned into his head like a hot rivet. "Merciful God! How I need nothing to do for a while...nothing to think about...nothing to worry about.
Rudy Regia sat at his desk feeling like a defenseless man surrounded by a pack of hungry predators. He stared dejectedly at the swarm of letters, memos, invoices, faxes, forms, and phone messages that lay strewn before him like confetti - none yet read nor responded to. And none would be. Not today. He had no stomach for work, for the endless flow of typed, written and vocal chaos that occupied ten hours of each day. This day - like so many similar ones the past few weeks - had become unendurable. But today was the worst yet, and he was on the brink of climbing the walls.
He knew why, and it wasn't just the dead-end job he was trapped in. There were scores of reasons, and all of them were raging war in his brain, each as loudly as the next; one just as ludicrous as another. When in chorus, they screamed the word STRESS; from the job he abhorred; from his carping, never-satisfied bitch of a wife; from his mistress, the money-grubbing tramp who was threatening to blow the whistle on their affair; from his gambling losses, mounting like the national debt; and from the likelihood of a future filled with days just like this one. That's why. And none of those reasons could be expunged. At least not today.
"Get out...just get the hell out of here for a while and do nothing. Absolutely nothing," he said aloud. Given voice, the idea set him in motion, and five minutes later he was out of the office. Fifteen minutes later he was walking glumly down a back street he wasn't even aware he had turned onto. His mind swirled with indecision, doubt, deadlines and threats. There seemed no available harbor of peace, no matter where his mind searched.
Halfway down the street he stopped, his attention suddenly gathered by the strange environs rising up on both sides. He felt certain that he had never been here before, but the area reminded him of Limboland, the sleazy five-block zone of the city that was crowded with strip joints, porno theaters, and the lost and depraved dredges of humanity. He'd been to Limboland a time or two - on a lark or on a drunk - but that had been ages ago.
The street he stood rooted to was actually an alley and was narrow, dark, and full of shadows. The storefronts hovering over him were boarded with warped wooden planks and rusted iron grating. All had a dirty, corrupted look about them.
All but one, straight ahead where the alley dead-ended at a high brick wall. There, a bright-red oblong sign sung over the sidewalk. Broad white letters ypon it read NOTHING.
Curious, Rudy made his way to the shop and peeked through the broad front window. Inside, there was nothing. Nothing but a bald, copper-skinned old man standing adjacent to a door centered in the blank back wall. There was nothing else in the room; nothing but the man, the door, and an eerie washed-out glow that soaked the room but had no obvious source. The old man, dressed in a loose white robe gathered at the waist by a gold rope, appeared of Asian origin. He stood oddly at ease, his head slightly bowed, his hands cupped at his groin. A peculiar but not unfriendly smile gleamed between his gray mustache and tidy chin beard.
Rudy went inside.
"Welcome," the old man calmly said as he bowed.
Rudy looked around the empty room. "Nothing?" he asked.
The old man nodded.
"But... why? What's the point?"
"There are people who want nothing," the old man replied. "People who need...even desperately crave...nothing. And nothing is here."
In no mood for a philosophical lecture, Rudy pointed toward the door the old man seemed to be guarding. "What's behind the door?"
"Nothing is behind the door."
Although Rudy snickered, he nonetheless sensed something compellingly ingenuous about the old man. In spite of himself, he felt his spirits rise along with his interest. "Can I go through the door?"
"And what happens if I do?"
"As I said, nothing...happens."
Rudy released a puff of breath. "Okay, I'll bite. How much does...uh, does nothing cost?"
Rudy looked long and hard at the old man, who simply stared back. Rudy scratched his jaw. "Let's make sure I have this straight. You're telling me it will cost me nothing to go through that door where absolutely nothing will happen. That right?"
"That is correct. Nothing...will happen. Absolutely."
Rudy shrugged. "Then open it up, because absolutely nothing is exactly what I need."
The old man bowed slightly, opened the door, and stepped aside. "As you wish."
Rudy walked through the door, and there was nothing...waiting.
The door to nothing closed upon Rudy Regia as the door to the shop opened again. The old man looked up.
"Welcome," he said with a smile as he bowed.