Surreal

The World Inside My Closet

Mia Stendal/Shutterstock.com

It was supposed to be an April Fool’s joke. How could I have known? If I could change anything about that day, if I could take it all back… But life doesn’t work that way, and like frightened, abused children, we’re punished for what we can’t imagine.

“You swear?”

School had let out an hour ago and my best friend Matt and I were hanging out on the playground, lounging beneath an ancient weeping willow.

“Honest to God.”

He looked at me askance, but I donned my best poker face and refused to back down.

“I told you I saw it. Don’t you believe me?”

Matt opened his mouth, then closed it.

“You swear?”

I regurgitated the most solemn pledge I knew.

“Cross my heart and hope to die.”

Reason made a valiant effort to assert itself that soporific afternoon, but in the end, it proved no match for my best friend’s yearning to believe. It’s a desire present in the heart of every child—and, for that matter, every adult.

A ripple of conflicting emotions washed across Matt’s face and then his eyes lit up.

“No way!”

“Come on, I’ll prove it.”

I’ll never forget how excited he was. We walked the whole twenty minutes to my house, and the entire time he had this goofy grin plastered on his face.

At least twice, he asked me, “Where do you think it goes?” and all I could manage was to shrug my shoulders and say I didn’t know. It was all I could do just to keep from busting up.

Matt was exceptionally bright—at the age of nine, he’d already tested into the GATE program—but despite his keen intelligence and sharp wit, he clung to his faith in magic and the supernatural like a Catholic clung to his Bible and the sacraments. When it came to C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, he was a hopeless fanatic, and earlier that day I convinced him I’d found a doorway to another world inside my closet.

Mom wasn’t home when we arrived and I had to fish the key out from my tattered Ninja Turtles backpack. The whole time, Matt hovered over me, telling me to hurry, that if we didn’t get upstairs fast enough, the door might disappear and then we’d lose our chance to explore that other world forever.

“Come on,” he said when I finally propped the door open. “Come on, come on, come on!”

God, I thought, this was going to be too easy.

We pounded up the stairs two steps at a time, and when I revealed my room to my gullible friend, I swear to God, his jaw dropped to the floor.

“It’s in here,” I said, “Follow me.”

Together we approached the closet, and for a while, Matt just stared and didn’t say a word.

“You go first,” I said, breaking the silence.

I have no idea what kind of world he’d already glimpsed beyond the threshold of his imagination, but I do think he knew what was going to happen. He knew, and he opened the closet anyway.

My plan was to let him walk inside. I’d hang back, wait for him to search for a doorway that wasn’t there, and then, just before realization dawned, I’d shove him back into the hanging clothes and shout, “April fools!”

Then he actually opened the door, and this time, my own jaw dropped.

Out of the open closet beamed an icy blue light, the sort you might encounter inside a cavern buried deep beneath a frozen tundral waste. I could already feel the first tendrils of a profound glacial chill reaching across the threshold, and all I could do was stand there and gape.

No, I thought. This can’t be right. This can’t be real. The look on Matt’s face was like nothing I’d seen before. It was a look of vindication, a look of raw, naked, unadulterated desire.

“I knew it,” he said. “No one’s ever believed me, but I knew it.”

He stood there for a while, transfixed. Then, all at once, he bolted through the open doorway and into someplace other.

It took my mind a while to reboot, and when I finally thought to chase after him, it was too late.

“Matt, come back!”

The instant before I lost sight of my best friend forever, I beheld a brilliant turquoise sky and towering arctic spires. The colors of that unearthly terrain seemed almost too sharp, too real, as if someone had loaded a panorama into Photoshop and ratcheted up the contrast and saturation. I still see that place in my dreams. Always, I’m shouting—”Matt, come back!”—and always, I’m too late.

I didn’t make it two steps before the door slammed shut. Momentum carried me forward anyway, and I banged into the hard wooden surface a moment later.

This isn’t right, I thought, dazed. This can’t be right.

I waited for the pain in my head to abate, then reached for the closet handle and pulled. The door slid easily, revealing clothes, a skateboard, and a chest filled with toys I hadn’t played with since I was five.

“Matt,” I shouted, pounding on the walls. “Matt, come back!”

But I knew he couldn’t hear me. That other world was gone and it had taken my best friend with it.


Did you enjoy this story and are you dying for more? Support me on Patreon at the $5 tier or above and I’ll complete a longer short story based on this one (at least ten thousand words in length.) Learn more and become a patron by clicking or tapping here!

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.

One Last Time

IgorZh/Shutterstock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on December 4, 2018.

Daniel wanders into the park he once frequented as a child. The time is exactly 5:45 p.m. He sits on the oak bench where, as a boy, he used to watch the other kids play and, huddling into himself against the cold, he stares into the sky.

Tomorrow, everything will change. Tomorrow, the life he once knew will be stripped away. It is a time of mourning, a time of sadness, a time of profound and sorrowful reflection.

By now, his fellows have positioned themselves at strategic locations around the world, and at 12:00 a.m. tomorrow, they’ll break the world and remake it in their own image. The change will not be gradual, and the people of the Earth will have no time to consider how their lives might have turned out differently. Daniel’s kind will peer into the sky—much as Daniel does now—and when the appointed time arrives, they’ll raise their hands, close their eyes, utter the sacred words, and when they open their eyes again, the world will be different.

Daniel doesn’t think the change will be for the better, but his companions have already made their decision and there’s no way he can stop them. Sometimes, he wonders how things could have played out if humanity had taken them in instead of casting them off to the outer fringes of society.

Daniel, for his part, believes that there are other solutions. But his personal convictions are futile without the agreement of his companions. So he savors the harsh chill of the evening air, basks in the explosive colors of the sunsetting sky, and treasures the old world one last time.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.

Fire and Stone

lassedesignen/Shutterstock.com

Adam had been walking through the tunnel for some time. He could not remember entering, nor could he remember why. Nevertheless, lost in both space and time, he continued walking, searching for the answer to a question long forgotten.

The tunnel was hot, uncomfortably so, and the longer he went on, the hotter it got. Making matters worse, the walls were drawing closer. At first, he’d thought it was his imagination. Now, however, he had to squeeze through to move, and soon, he was certain, they would close around him completely, trapping him underground with nothing but the dark and the heat to hear his dying screams.

He’d already tried to turn around, so many times, in fact, that he could no longer remember which way was forward and which way was back. Not that it mattered. Either destination led to his destruction.

Embrace the heat and the stone.

A shard of memory, flaring in the dark like a spark. It was soon followed by another.

Become one with the underground, or else it will destroy you.

The words, spoken in a desiccated rasp, were accompanied by the image of a gnarled old woman, huddled close to a dwindling fire. Adam seized on what little he could remember, but there was nothing for his mind to grab onto, nothing but the heat and solid stone.

Lost, alone, and far out of his depth, he sunk to the ground, sweat rolling down his face and neck. Was this how it would end, deep underground without even the comfort of knowing why he’d descended in the first place?

Embrace the heat and the stone.

The words had the air of a prophecy yet to be fulfilled, a conditional destiny that hinged on his willingness to do as the old woman said.

Adam picked himself up, almost out of breath and uncertain how to proceed. The heat was getting to his mind, making him lightheaded and sluggish. Even though he hadn’t moved, he could feel that the walls were closer, that they were almost on top of him, that in a moment he would only be able to walk sideways, and that in a few more moments he would not be able to walk at all.

Embrace the heat and the stone.

This time, the words seemed to come from outside his head. Not sound, not exactly, but a vibration, a low, resonant rumble that could be felt through the floor and the walls. The Earth was speaking to him. Or was he hallucinating? Adam was not sure which, not sure it even mattered.

The heat.

Like an oven, roasting him alive.

The stone.

Pressing down on him, pinning him to the ground.

Adam closed his eyes, the fire in his heart nearly extinguished.

The heat. The stone.

In his head, the two words merged into a back and forth rhythm, and like rubbing two sticks together in a forest, the resulting friction began to warm him from the inside.

Heat. Stone. Heat. Stone.

Faster and faster the rhythm went. The heat inside of him grew hotter, brighter. This interior heat was somehow different, not harmful in the least but rather a counterweight that helped him to keep his balance amidst the heat and pressure from the outside. Adam’s mind was coming back online, and through the rapidly growing fire in his head, he began to perceive in the underground an ancient forgotten purpose.

Become one with the underground.

Now, Adam had an idea of what that might mean. He was on the threshold of a grand and irreversible transformation, but first, he had a choice to make. Either he could give up his old life on the surface, embrace his new purpose, and live; or else hold onto who he’d once been, and deep within the heart of the Earth, lay down and die.

The heat.

The stone.

Adam did not wish to die, and it was clear to him that there was no way to go but forward. His choice was obvious, then, and in the searing darkness of the underground tunnel, he answered the Earth’s call.

Like an animal in a cage, he threw back his head and screamed. He hit the wall behind him, but the blow did not hurt. Instead, flesh and bone fused with stones and minerals. Caught now in the gravity a wild and ancient dance, the souls of Adam and the Earth twisted, pulled, merged, forming one inseparable whole that was neither Adam nor the Earth but something more.

This composite entity regarded its nascent existence with almost reverential wonder. It could now perceive in its entirety the ancient purpose that Adam had only glimpsed in the underground, a commandment older than the universe, and with its heart set, it began the work necessary to fulfill it.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.