Door Ways

brown-20831_1280Every time Dee heard the kitchen door crack against its frame she looked up expectantly. It was loose in it’s frame,  the draft pulling it back and forth. It was years since a Door had appeared to her but this morning….she shook her head. She must have dreamt about it and the leftover tension was wearing. Turning back to the fruit on her board she continued chopping. Laughter from the play area  across the road came through the open window. It sounded like her girl. A glance instead showed her Cosima was sitting on a swing leaning forward, watching the other children with a furrowed brow. She had been quiet all morning and repeated attempts to engage her had led to an abrupt announcement that she was going out to play. Dee had been so surprised she let her go with no more questions. Now she was finding reasons to stand at the kitchen window and watch. Looking down at all of the fruit and vegetables she had now chopped up Dee put the knife down. Cosima was probably just reacting to her. She’d been jumpy all day. Despite knowing it wasn’t going to happen she still had this…she could only describe it as somewhere between an itch and a headache. Every time she had touched a door handle today she had held her breath. Looking at the kitchen door a final time she turned back to the chopping board. She would make a fruit salad for dessert. That would use up all this fruit.

The chicken she put in an oven dish with the vegetables looked as pale as the chicken Cosimas father, Dorian, had been served in hospital. It was like it had been boiled. It fell apart easily enough but smelled like plastic. He had joked that he didn’t have a sense of taste anymore so what did it matter. She had laughed for his sake. Cosima had slept silently on her lap, the beeping machines lulling Dee to sleep as well. She had dreamed that Dorian had forgiven her. When she had asked what for he had shown her the first wedding ring she had ever worn. With the feeling of falling she had woken to find he had passed in his sleep. Instead of just grieving she had felt angry. She had no reason to feel guilty or be forgiven but on the day he was buried and Cosima had gripped her hand painfully she thought maybe there was.

Feeling tears coming she clamped her eyes shut until it passed. The counsellor had told her to think of happier times, good memories. The problem was all the good memories led to the final thought that he was dead. That didn’t bring her any comfort. Instead she had begun to think about life before him. When the Doors had appeared to her.

Her friends had been so jealous. But they couldn’t pass through. Adults couldn’t either. She remembered being so scared. There were stories of some never returning, being eaten by monsters or kidnapped by mercenaries on the other side. But her mother had dismissed those stories. Why would people make up such fibs, she would ask. And who exactly is bringing the stories back if they never return? With a Traveller’s survival pack her parents had purchased off the internet she had ventured alone through her first Door. Like many other people who went through the Doors, she didn’t tell much of what happened to her parents. It starts to fade for some after a while, especially the ones who went when very young. Too many memories for the brain to handle, doctors thought. And as you grow up again they get replaced with memories from your Stationary life.

There was a support group but Dee had stopped going. They spent so much time trying to keep hold of the memories. She hadn’t wanted to forget, precisely, but she didn’t fear it. Some memories she would be happy to  live without, just dumb luck which ones stayed.

She thought of the house she and Marl had lived in. She had chosen the wallpaper for the front room. And Marl had painted a mural on one wall. It had reminded her of the field near her parents house, when summer turned to autumn. The humidity changing to crisp decay and cool breezes. That had been the only time she had felt homesick. Marl had held her then, warm and safe. They continued to travel together, always returning to their house. Doors had stopped appearing. They got married.  She knew then why people made up awful stories about children who never returned. It hurt those left behind to think their children didn’t want to come back.

That was the real reason she couldn’t go to the support group anymore. Those Traveller’s had searched for a way home. Trying every door in every building in the hope one led back, sometimes years of searching. Dee had been happy in both worlds but deep inside her she had made the decision to stay. Marl had been her reason. He touched her as if she was actually alive. True she was only a child with her parents and first love is powerful, but the life they had built still felt like it was more real than the dream she had returned to.  She still wasn’t sure why. So while the others tried to remember their time away, feeling guilty for spending most of it trying to return, Dee felt guilty for wishing to stay and hoped to forget.

The front door slamming shut made her jump.

“Cosima?” she called.

“I’m going to the garden, Mum!” The back door slammed.

She thought of other children, her and Marl’s, slamming doors and running around the house. Marl would yell at them because he was more worried about the floor getting dirty than she was. It annoyed him when she laughed at their unruliness. But it reminded her of him when they first met. She had never told him but, after making the decision to remain, every door she opened she hesitated before going through. Even when Doors stopped, as she must have grown too old for it, still she would pause. That last day was sunny and hot. Her hair was wet and water droplets ran down the back of her shirt, Marl was yelling at the kids as they ran through the house still revved up from swimming outside. She was laughing, turning to look at him as she walked into the bedroom. The air felt cold and dry. Marls face changed. She looked around to find herself in her parents kitchen and realised she was back to the same height as when she left.  Looking up through the Doorway as Marl realised what was happening she reached her hand for him but the Door slammed closed.

Her mother heard her scream and found her crying on the floor. Her parents mistook her distress for some horrific event on the other side. They took her to the hospital to make sure she wasn’t injured. For years she saw psychologists and eventually ended up in group support. To her parents it had been merely days. It never occurred that the horror was seeing them.

Stationary life continued. Education, work, marriage and a child. Sickness and grief. This time she had something other than memories to live with. She heard the back door open.

“Mum?”

“In the kitchen.”

“Mum!”

A thrill of panic went through her. Clutching the knife she dashed into the hallway, Cosima stood at the other end and in between them were several Doorways that had not been there before. Dee held her hand up indicating for her daughter to wait. Trying hard not to let her hand tremble she opened the first Door. A damp heat rolled out and a cacophony of tropical birdsong. Eyeing her little girl who seemed on the verge of tears she shook her head. Closing the first Door, she continued down the hall, dripping knife in hand. A gust of frigid wind and the blast of salt water from the second had Dee slamming the Door before it was fully open. The third and last was nearest to Cosima.

“Third time lucky,” she reassured her. Cosima tried and failed to smile. Taking a deep breath Dee turned the handle. A warm golden glow emanated from it. Peeking inside Dee saw a study and heard the murmur of voices. As she opened the Door wider Cosima came closer, holding onto her mother’s leg like she had when she was younger. They waited. The voices stopped. Two men stepped into view. One was elderly with snowy, clean cut hair and a sprightly gait. The other was middle aged but slim. The twin looks of shock upon their faces were nothing she was sure to the look on hers.

“Ma?” the younger man said. Dee kept looking at the older man. Marls eyes were still that amazing pale blue but they had the same regret she saw in the mirror each day.

“Is that…you?” Looking at her eldest son she smiled.

“Yes, my darling. I’m so sorry I’ve been away for so long.”

“We’re…the same age?”

“I know.” She looked at Marl again. “This is Cosima. She’s my daughter.” He nodded in understanding and she wished she could explain further. His hand twitched and she saw a different wedding ring on his hand. She hiccoughed as laughter bubbled out along with her tears. Dee cleared her throat and knelt down to Cosima.

“This is Marl and his son. They are very, very special friends of mine. They’ll help you.”

“Ok.”

“And I want you to know something very important. They’ll remind you if you forget.” She looked at them and the men nodded. “If you need to stay, that’s alright, my darling. You be happy. Just be careful and always look before you step through. You understand?” Cosima nodded. Dee pulled her in and gave her a hard hug as she looked up at her other family. In that exchange of glances she realised how different their lives could have been. With a kiss to Cosima’s temple she smiled brightly at her daughter and let her step through. She watched as her children held hands. Cosima waved goodbye, a genuine smile creeping onto her face. Then she and Marl were left. He put his hand out but it was held back as if a pane of glass separated them. She placed her palm to his and imagined his warmth. He cried too. A creaking broke the silence and the Door began to close on her. Reluctantly she stepped away. She held his gaze as long as possible. Then the Door was gone.

Her ears rang in the silence. Then the sound of children playing filtered through the window. She looked down at the knife in her hand.

 

 

This story was part of the Pick Three Sentences challenge set by Chuck Wendig over at his blog terribleminds.com. Last week everyone had to write one sentence. This week we had to pick three that suggested a story to us. I chose the following:

1) He touched her as if she was actually alive. By Jezebel.

2) In that exchange of glances she realised how different their lives could have been. By Ita.

3) Closing the first door, she continued down the hall, dripping knife in hand. By Ila Turner.

The picture is used under Creative Commons, taken from pixabay.com

And I hope you enjoy the story.

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The Priceless Cabin Beyond The Water (part 1)

fog-1005445_1280The peeling paint on the wooden sign told them this was the registration office. Alessa’s father steered her inside, hand on her shoulder. There were other people waiting so they joined the end of the line. She stroked her baby brother Isaac’s head when he stirred in the papoose she wore. The floor was dusty and the windows dim. An old crone with stringy hair was behind the tall desk. Everyone talked in whispers except her. She loudly proclaimed when someone was registered, that the departure date she had given them was not for sale, for swapping and absolutely under no circumstances were they to miss it.
When Alessa and her father reached the desk the crone looked them over and sighed.
“All departees need to be present at registration.” Her father sagged slightly.
“We are.” He gave their names. She presented wooden tokens. Each had a date scratched into it and their names freshly added. They got the same speech about the dates.
“Excuse me?” Alessa stuttered. The crone had to lean forward to see her properly. “What if we die before our date?”
“Then you don’t have to worry about missing it do you? A blacksmith can make it into a metal token if you prefer.”
“For free?”
“No. Next!”
Thoroughly dismissed they made their way back out onto the dirt street. The buildings were nicer here, stone and clay. She had hoped the people would all be nicer too. At the outskirts of town an old man had spat on them and shambled back inside a lean to when asked for directions. They’d carried on in silence. The proprietor of the hostel they’d found had encouraged them to go straight to registration to get earlier dates. Aware the children were tired and hungry, Father had seen to them first.
“Back to the hostel?” She asked.
“No, there is daylight left. We can explore. And if we find anyone hiring a carpenter, all the better.”
“Because carpenters are always useful. That’s why you trained as one.”
“Correct, my darling.” He bestowed a rare smile on her and she felt like she was glowing. “Shall I take Isaac?”
“No, Father. If you need to speak business it will be better without the baby on your front.” He stopped and turned her to face him.
“Was that something your mother told you?” She shook her head. He continued to look at her.
“Yes.” He smiled again but it wasn’t a real one.
“You’re a good girl, Alessa.”
They carried on walking. Mist began to block out the bright sun. He took Alessa’s hand and began walking in the direction the it floated from. He was getting excited and picked up the pace as the mist turned to fog. She could hear voices and a metallic smell hit her nose.
They arrived at the back of some tall buildings. More people were gathering so her Father hoisted her onto his shoulders. Isaac gurgled but other than that was still. She was thankful or Father would have to bring them down again. She could now see a pier jutting out over grey choppy water, a small boat docked at the far end. A woman was being helped in by a broad shouldered man. A cheer went up from the audience.
“It’s a departure!” She yelled.
“I see it, my love!” She felt Father chuckle and he pushed into the throng. A group at the base of the pier were chanting led by a man in robes.
“…be at peace and see her family across the water.
The Gods carry her from toil, her struggle is over.”
A rope barrier prevented the crowd going further. As they got closer and the first roar of the crowd settled, Alessa could hear crying and screaming. A boy was holding the side of the boat. The woman removed his hands as two men picked the child up and held him out of reach. He clawed at the air, trying to reach for the small vessel as it moved away from the dock. The woman blew a final kiss and turned away, facing into the thick fog.
“Look Alessa, it moves without a sail. Or oars.” Her Father’s whisper seemed loud in the sudden quiet. The chanting had stopped. Even the child was silent. Alessa felt her Father’s grip on her legs making them numb. The woman disappeared into the fog. Quicker than it had arrived the fog rolled back into the distance, leaving the water calm and no sign of the boat. A collective sigh rippled through the crowd followed by applause.
As the audience dispersed her Father kept moving forward. When they were no longer surrounded by people he swung her down. She stamped her feet as pins and needles racked her legs. The two men from the dock were unhooking the rope.
“Afternoon,” her Father greeted. They nodded but didn’t speak.
“While waiting I saw there was some wear on the pier. I’d happily fix it for a fair price or is there a master carpenter I could be recommended to?” The men looked at each other and smiled.
“For every citizen who takes the journey…” one said reverently.
“A priceless gift.” The other said with a grin on his face. He clapped her Father on the shoulder.
“The local carpenter departed three days ago. The next day we saw the damage. You have come at a fortuitous moment.” They began to guide him down the pier. He glanced at Alessa who indicated she would stay. With a real smile he carried on. They passed the boy, his feet now dangling over the edge as he stared across the water. Keeping one hand on Isaac she lowered herself next to him. His eyes were red and the streaks down his face were drying.
“They say the land across the water only has one building. A beautiful cabin. But inside is big enough to house everyone and we will all live together with the Gods. But they build it a day at a time which is why only one person can go. Is that true?”
“How should I know?”
“Well, I’m new. We arrived today. You must have lived here a lot longer if your mother has departed. That was your Mother? I thought maybe you’d know.”
He sat up straighter, staring at her and she felt so sad. “The dates they gave to my family are all close together. You’ll be with her soon.” She patted his hand. He got up. He was very tall, probably older than her.
“My mother never registered me. I don’t have a departure date.”

To be continued…

This story is for Toni. She chose the title out of a list I created using the random title generator at http://www.mcoorlim.com/random I first became familiar with this site through Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge at terribleminds.com and led to my first story on here, ‘Two Skulls’. Header image used under Creative Commons, taken from pixabay.com.

I hope you enjoy this story and I’ll post the next part soon.