The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language.
- The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
It's a warm night for this late in the year. Warm because the sun shone unobstructed throughout the afternoon and early evening, only now beginning its decent behind the western hills. Warmer yet because the fire burns hot and bright between us, joyfully dancing in the same colors as the turning leaves. Red and orange and yellow tongues transmute dry wood to ash and smoke, granting us a short extension of light and warmth as the sun departs.
We share in the old tradition; I'll not call it time-honored as it is no longer honored by many and certainly not by the charlatan Time. We share in the old tradition of story telling around a fire, of filling the hours and minutes with myths and legends as the night floods in above and around. Until the moon has reached it's zenith above us, until it's right there between the tip of that tree and that star, let us tell tales we've heard or embellished or imagined. Let us speak until the flames burn themselves out of things that can only exist in the hours after the sun has fled and only as we near the end of October.
Let my words mingle with the shifting smoke in the night air, billowing forward and backward through time, as I begin our first story.
It looks like any other door.
Perhaps not exactly like any other door: the paint is chipped, the knob is from some bygone era, the frame is always crooked just enough to be irritating; but there's nothing about it that screams danger. The first two times I came across it I thought it was the door to a store or a church, only realizing it was something much stranger after opening it. The third time I found it I knew it was The Door as I approached. By that point I had become wary enough to detect it before opening it. Alas my knowledge of what lay beyond didn't stop my morbid curiosity from reaching forward and turning the knob, pulling the door open slowly as fear and exuberance mingled in my mind. When I find it for a fourth time I know I will throw it open joyfully.
For She resides behind The Door in Her world that never was.
When I first stepped through I didn't notice. The room looked exactly as I expected a small music shop to look: racks of sheet music, shelves of reeds, and a few instruments hanging on the wall. The air was pleasant, clean and fresh with just a hint of lavender drifting through it. I rustled through the books of music, their covers pleasingly glossy and their pages perfectly crisp. When I had found the one I wanted most, for after skimming them I wanted them all, I moved to the counter to pay. That's when I first noticed something was amiss.
The woman at the counter had her head perched on her hands, a dreamy look across her face. I couldn't tell if she noticed me at first as her eyes were entirely a pale green, lacking an iris or pupil. I placed the book of music down in front of her. She inclined her head towards me, a pleasant smile forming on her lips.
"I'd like to check out please," I told her, unsure of what to make of her monotone eyes.
"Alright," she sighed wistfully. She made no other movement for over a minute.
"How much does it cost?" I prompted, an eerie feeling creeping over me.
"No cost," she replied in that same airy tone.
Her face remained placid as I picked up the book and slowly turned back towards the door. As I turned I tried to rationalize that she was wearing colored contacts and that the store was running some sort of promotional special, all the while a nagging voice in the back of my head telling me to leave as fast as I could. By the time I was facing the door it was too late, She was already there.
She wore a white dress that softly flowed through the still air of the shop. Her skin was the same pale green as the eyes of the woman at the counter, pulsing with a ghastly glow. Her black hair flowed gracefully over her shoulders, framing a pretty and smiling face. Her outstretched hand beckoned me towards her, her golden bracelet chiming slightly with the motion.
I froze in place, panicked at the specter standing between me and the door. She laughed; a noise that was surprisingly gentle, inviting, and harmonious. She swept her arm back towards the door causing it to blow open as if a gust of wind had pushed it ever-so-gently outwards. I took a deep breath before bolting towards it, hurtling myself across the threshold.
"Come back any time," she called out as I passed.
The days afterward sent me into a spiral of confusion. Returning to the spot where The Door had been I found just the flat, brick wall of the music shop I had intended to visit that day; its actual door being on the other side of the building. The inside of the shop was nothing like what I had experienced, dissimilar in layout and staff. They informed me that they had never seen me before and that the book of music I had purchased wasn't one they carried. I would have written it off as a fantasy or a dream at that point if not for the book of music.
Whenever I, or my friends for that matter, played from that book there were no wrong notes. The songs sounded clearer and the music more expressive when playing from it. I attempted to make a copy for my friend Gregor, first by machine and then by hand writing one of the songs onto music paper, but the effect did not carry over into the copies. To this we attributed no great loss, as it was easy enough to share the book between the four or five of us who wished to practice from it. It seemed for a while that this strange haunting talisman of increased musicality would be the sole memento from that other place. Then I found it again.
The second time was when a group of us were going to play for a church celebration. Our brass quintet was to use the back door to come in and get set up before playing a short set. I arrived and stumbled in, my trumpet case knocking against my thigh. The place was a maze of corridors with no indication of where I was supposed to go. Each room I looked into was empty of people but brimming with an inviting energy as if they had been waiting for someone to enjoy them for a long, long time. I finally opened a door that led back outdoors, the sun shining brightly above me in the sky. The sky was bluer than I remembered it, the grass greener. Everything was imbued with a vibrancy and liveliness that was just as pleasant as it was unusual.
Down the hill I spotted a woman setting out food on a table. I strolled towards her, enjoying the pleasant cushion of the grass and ground as I walked. I grabbed a roll off one of the serving plates as I approached. Biting into it I stopped in place, the taste so unbelievably good that I forgot for that moment what I was doing. After I swallowed the bite I looked back towards the woman, dropping the remainder of the roll upon seeing her all-green eyes. She smiled and waved at me as I backed away, my mind suddenly remembering the odd scene from the music shop months before. I turned and ran back into the church, trying to retrace my way through the strange corridors and running right into Her.
She wrapped her pale, green arms around me as I shivered in shock.
"It's a wonderful world isn't it?" she asked, holding me tightly, "You could stay if you wanted to."
I struggled against her grip, trying to shuffle my way past her and to my freedom.
"All you have to do is give yourself to me, and I can keep you happy forever."
I flailed my trumpet case at her with the limited range of motion I had. She didn't seem to notice or care as it hit her, unlatching and dumping the instrument on the ground. Her hands moved upwards over my spine and neck until one forced my head towards her. Soft lips kissed my forehead and then she released me. I fled down the hallway and found The Door again, slamming my weight into it as I barged back into the real world. On the other side I found one of my bandmates, asking me where I had come from and why I looked so terrified. I couldn't even begin to know how to explain what had happened to her. Trumpetless, I went home soon after.
The nightmares began the next week, although that is perhaps the wrong term for them. Every night they began the same way, after my eyes would close my mind would trace the lines of Her lips where they had left that parting kiss on my forehead. They would form in the same spectral green of her skin and then the color would flow down and across my body, transporting me to some new and wonderful location. I wandered through temples and castles, trekked through verdant forests, and dove off waterfalls. Even the more mundane places I would go had this aura of enchantment, this pervading sense of comfort and betterness than the real world places they corresponded to. Some nights I would meet with friends in those dreams, ones taken too soon or who had been separated from me by life's varying currents, and we would enjoy each other's company without mention of our parting. It was nightmarish, you see, because the real world couldn't compete with it.
The horrors of those nightmares came in layers, the most obvious one first. Every morning I would wake to surroundings more drab and feeling so much less lively than Her world. Each day as I went about my life I could feel it taunting me, letting me know that I could do the same things in Her world but enjoy them more. The second layer of horror and self-disgust came when I found myself, when my thoughts were idle, considering Her offer to return and stay there. Worse yet was that as those considerations started pushing themselves like intrusive thoughts into my head at least once each day, that She began to appear in my dreams as well. At first She was just present for just a smile or a wave, leaving shortly thereafter so that I could drink warm coco with Justine again or sit in a sunlit clearing. Then came the nights where I waved back. Then the ones where I talked with her about things my waking mind couldn't remember. Then finally the ones where I walked with her hand-in-hand along a beach, the ocean perfectly reflecting every bright star in its shimmering tide so that it seemed like we were walking on the edge of space itself.
I awoke then feeling torn down the middle. Half of me hating that I wanted Her fantastical world, disgusted that I would let myself be taken in by these false spectacles, and the other half yearning for her hand in my hand, for her kiss upon my brow once more.
It was during this period that I found The Door a third time. I had become suspicious by that time of doors with old knobs, taking my time whenever I found one to search the area around it for another entrance or enticing someone else to enter ahead of me. This time I saw it on the side of an optometrist's office, slightly crooked and looking extremely out of place. I saw the knob and ran around to the front of the building, peering in through the glass to the spot where The Door would have to exist on the interior. I whooped with joy when I saw no mark of it inside, running back around the building with a mad look upon my face, finger wagging in front of me as if I could finally claim victory over The Door and gloat about it. I stood in front of it for two minutes, my exuberance draining away as I realized that knowing I could spot it didn't mean much of anything. That it was still here waiting for me to enter and that it no longer needed to trick me into doing so. My hand gingerly turned the knob pushed the door inward, revealing Her sitting on a picnic blanket under a perfect blue sky.
My feet began pushing me forward as my eyes spied the monument one hundred feet away in the park. Another layer of horror began to form; I knew that monument. My hand wrenched the door back closed, smacking the wood into my face. The Door shuddered and splintered as the knob turned to ash in my hand. I sprinted down the street, turning left after a few blocks towards an abandoned strip mall. There he was, horse-mounted and stone-grey; the monument to Colonel Lester Menk tucked away behind some decorative fencing in the corner of the parking lot. It was a far cry from the beautiful park it had been in on Her side of The Door. I shoved my fist into my mouth, teeth digging into my knuckle as I processed what this meant. I staggered over to the stone memorial and sank down against the fence as that third layer of horror coalesced.
Her world wasn't nearly as fantastical as I had once thought; all the times I'd been there I had done anything that would have been impossible in the real world. The differences were smaller, more realistic. It was not a world wholespun out of dream and imagination, but from the feasible vision of how things could have been. The parking lot I now sat in for a mall that was abandoned almost as soon as it was built had once been a gorgeous park where people from our little town came to enjoy time with one another. There had been a petition seven or so years ago to prevent selling it and to preserve it as a public space for all, but it had never gotten enough signatures. I hadn't signed it. This drab world I lived in was a hell partially of my own making.
The dreams flowed swiftly through me to confirm this new hypothesis. I had been to places as they would have been if any attempt at conservation or ecological responsibility had been tried. The friends who had moved away had done so because they either couldn't afford to live here anymore or had feared politically for their lives and livelihoods. The ones who had passed on had all done so due to preventable illnesses or manageable conditions that they hadn't had the time or money to properly deal with.
Her world was the ghostly visage of what could have been, our lives if every choice we had made was just a little better. It was our achievable dream of the future haunting us because we had failed to achieve it. Worse than that, I had grown to see such simple things, things that had been achieved in other parts of the world even, as so fantastical that I had thought Her world to be impossible. Tears began flowing out of my eyes as I took my head into my hands. I had let the world slip through my fingers.
I don't know how She came to administer that world through The Door. I don't know if She exists as some sort of comforting spirit to guide the broken and disillusioned to ease their pain and shelter them in the world they lost or if She is something darker, a possessive ghost who uses the future we abandoned to wear down Her victims before claiming them as Her own subjects. Perhaps She's neither of those things. What I do know is that in my dreams she takes me through her world that could have been and tells me my time is coming soon. She holds me close and strokes my hair by crystal-clear lakes and I feel flickers of her ghostly green flash through my skin. In the mirror I catch glimpses of myself with those greenwashed eyes the other subjects in Her domain have, and a chillingly mindless smile comes to my face. I spend every day skulking through the street, checking every doorknob hoping to find The Door again. Because the next time I find it I'm going to charge through and give myself to Her. I'm going to let Her change me, let Her flood my eyes with spectral light and melt away my memories of this forsaken world.
I'm going to live in the world we used to dream of.