Old Man Jeffords

Creaturart Images/Shutterstock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on December 11, 2018.

A light came on in the Jefford’s house, disturbing the darkness of the night. It oozed out of a smokey plate glass window, alighted on a cracked and peeling wall, brushed the tops of thick bramble-like weeds. If anyone had happened by and glanced through the grimy glass, they might have caught a rare glimpse of Old Man Jeffords himself, clutching his chest and tumbling to the moldy floor. But there was no one there that night—Old Man Jeffords had isolated himself for over fifteen years and people had stopped checking in on him long ago. And so he passed, as so many unfortunate souls do, in silence.

Old Man Jeffords lay with his head pressed against the carpet, inhaling the rotten perfume of a house he’d stopped grooming the day his wife died. He didn’t care that his heart had betrayed him, for life was a restless and unending wake. All he could think in this ultimate moment was that he could finally close his eyes, knowing he would never have to open them again.

His fluttering heart seized; his leaden body grew stiff. The infinite depths behind closed eyelids succumbed to a deeper darkness, a desolate existential wasteland that, like a magnet, pulled Old Man Jeffords down. There was no life here, and that suited Jeffords just fine. In his heart, he’d already died long ago, and he welcomed his unmaking with open arms.

“Samuel.”

The soft, diaphanous whisper reached him just before awareness tapered for good. It buoyed him up, a counterpoint to the sinking weight of his despair, and he was left suspended in the no man’s land between life and death.

“Lisa?”

In some way Jeffords didn’t understand, his wife was alive. Alive. The allure of the silent, everlasting darkness compelled him, but if Lisa was still out there, if they could still be together…

“Don’t leave me,” she said. “Don’t let the darkness destroy you.”

Jeffords had slipped beyond the realm of human emotion, but what he found on the threshold of existence was something more intense: a primal, all-consuming desire that realigned the filaments of his soul.

The poles of that great cosmic magnet shifted, and Jeffords was no longer pulled down but up. The darkness receded, and in its wake, a blinding light burst forth. Here, in this new place beyond life and death, Jeffords beheld the woman he’d loved for so many decades—only now she was remade, and so much more beautiful than she’d ever been before.

“I never thought I’d see you again,” Jeffords said.

“Love never dies.”

Jeffords opened his heart to her, just as he’d done the day they met 57 years ago.

Flash.

The two souls merged, a mighty fusion reaction that could easily have burned the universe to cinders. And in the intersection of their eternally bonded hearts, Jeffords came to know a third and even greater love, one that promised he would never be alone again.

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

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.