Vonwürdig

Fiction by Robert Long Foreman

Every office has a colossus, someone who has been around longer than anyone. Others are promoted or switch careers, but the office fixture, the permanent walrus, goes nowhere, until he is dead or too far gone to continue showing up.

Many such men wither, the longer they remain in place, so that while they may be fixed somewhere they look as if a strong breeze would scatter them to pieces. Others look just as they ought to, enlarging with their prolonged employment, taking on more awkward bulk every year as if they gather weeds and barnacles to themselves under their polo shirts and khaki pants.

Daniel was one of these barnacled men, the immovable-object-in-residence at Uniport, a company that makes doors. He was a copywriter in the Providence office, which was otherwise staffed by sales representatives such as Ellie, who could not have been less like Daniel: slim, small, with nice teeth and an abundance of what her supervisor called “great energy.” She was Daniel’s opposite in a thousand ways. She had friends. She knew her way around a French press. She did not make a home for herself at Uniport the way a parasite carves out a living from within its host. On Sunday afternoons, she often stayed home with a mild hangover and watched television.

On the night of one such Sunday, Ellie had a dream about Daniel. “I never liked Daniel,” she would say later. “When I first saw him I thought: That man is someone to avoid.” She described him, in detail, when asked to. With an “overgrown beard” and “sunken eyes,” Daniel sounded something like an old, broken Orson Welles.

“I would see him getting coffee,” Ellie said. “I’d watch and wait for him to get away from the machine before I went for it. He gave me the creeps, with his little teeth and his little hands. They didn’t match his big body. He was a great big cockroach.

“Other women at work said he’d take an interest in me. I said, ‘He can take an interest, and I’ll tell him exactly where he can take it.’ Something like that, anyway.”

The dream Ellie had about Daniel was “vivid” to her in the morning, she said, like few dreams ever were. “It was a Tuesday,” she said—and it must have been a truly unusual dream, for rarely do dreams seem to take place on certain days of the week.

“Daniel caught my arm on the way from the microwave to where I wanted to go eat with the others. He took me by my arm and said, ‘We’re going to lunch.’ I couldn’t shake him off. It was his voice that stopped me. I’d never heard him talk before. He was quiet, so I thought he’d be soft- spoken. But he had this deep voice.”

Daniel led Ellie to an atrium that adjoined the Uniport office. They sat together at a small table. Ellie ate leftover spaghetti. Daniel didn’t eat. “But once I was out in that atrium with him, I couldn’t tell how we made it out there. There was the glass front door I went through every day, but we didn’t come that way. He brought me some other way I didn’t know. I couldn’t see it from where I was sitting.”

Daniel spoke to Ellie, but she “couldn’t make any words out of it. It was like he was speaking a foreign language.

“But then it wasn’t quite like that. It was like if I tilted my head just right I could understand him just fine. But I couldn’t find the right angle.”

Ellie woke from the dream with a bad taste in her mouth. She went to work and looked, on her way in, for another way into the Uniport office. As in the dream, she found no alternative route. It was “a relief” to her, she said.

~

Her day was uneventful. She didn’t see Daniel.

When she went home, she ate leftover spaghetti and watched a game show, in which celebrity contestants were given a series of challenges. One of them was called “One-Wording.”

Never mind the details of the game, which Ellie paid no attention to. It was the name that set something off in her, like a trigger.

“Out of nowhere,” Ellie later said, “I thought of the word Vonwürdig. I don’t know why. It sounded German, or it looked German in my head.”

Ellie did what anyone would do. She googled “Vonwürdig.

The first result was an automated translation. The word meant “door-worthy.” It was nonsense.

The next result was a message board.

Titled Searching for Vonwürdig, it looked like any other message board—no graphics, just plain text with ugly borders around it.

Ellie found a welcome thread. “Welcome,” it read,

to our online community. Here is where we’re trying to discover the secrets of a door that is pregnant with a strange mysterious power.

The first thing you’ll want to know is “What door is this?” It is a door called Vonwürdig. It is somewhere in the continental U.S.

“How do we know about Vonwürdig?”

It has a website, and it gets updated all the time.

“Who is updating the website?”

We don’t know. Whoever it is has access to the door that no one else has, and he watches it to see what happens when someone walks through it. He writes his observations on the website.

We are a community of critical thinkers who want to get to the bottom of this. We want answers to three main questions.

1. Is Vonwürdig real? Is it doing what the website says really?
2. Who is responsible for the website? Who is the author?
3. Where is Vonwürdig, and can it be stopped from bringing more harm to innocents?

Ellie bookmarked this message board, but that was unnecessary, for she continued to read it into the evening. There were many threads, some of them dating from the early 2000s, when the creators of the message board stumbled onto the original Vonwürdig website.

The original Vonwürdig website was enormous. It consisted of black writing on a black background. “If you glance at it,” said a message board user, “it looks like a long blank nothing. But if you mess with your monitor settings,” or “highlight the text with your mouse,” the writing reveals itself.