The Doorway of Disarray

Standard
Digital drawing. Slightly left of center, a man in a suit seen from the back steps toward a detached doorway into a hazy light. Sitting up at his left is a dog with tongue lolling out, gazing up at the man. To the right is a portable generator. Wires lead from the generator and wrap around the doorframe. The dog, man, and generator cast shadows. The doorframe does not. Right foreground, another dog seen in profile from head to top of chest, with red eyes, notches in the ears, and red spittle dripping from the mouth, staring at the man. Faint outlines of shelving are seen in the background.

My doorway was done.  My masterwork of alchemy and carpentry.  Humming with electricity. 

It was done.

I exhaled a sigh and took a few steps back, gazing at the freestanding doorway in the middle of my shed.  I loosened the collar of my shirt, rolled my shoulders, and tipped my head to this side and that to stretch my neck. 

The doorway had no door attached.  It didn’t need one.  The frame was made of seven different kinds of wood pressed and woven together in a particular pattern.  Then cured and sealed with a particular potion.  A thin wire ran along the inside of the frame, one end attached to a small generator that I’d just turned on.

I reached out toward the center of the doorway.  I felt some change in the air there.  I was sure of it.  I let the fingers of my outstretched hand move closer. 

I hesitated, and turned to the closed door of the shed.

Arthur was barking just outside.  He probably didn’t understand why I wasn’t letting him in.  Or maybe he was alarmed by the big sound that the small generator was making.  Or maybe he didn’t care at all, and just wanted me to bring him his dinner. 

I’d done enough work for the day anyway.  I was officially on vacation now, for two weeks.  No neckties.  No shirts with collars.  No need to shave before breakfast (or after).  I knelt down and turned off the generator.  I didn’t bother to cover the doorway with a cloth or tarp.  It wouldn’t work—or shouldn’t—without a current running through.

Arthur went quiet.

Then he started barking again. 

I smiled and walked to the door of the shed.  “Coming, my liege!” 

***

I’d been working on the doorway off and on for several years.  It had started as a casual question in my mind one evening, my restless mind held back by my exhausted body.  If only my mind could keep going on even as my body rested.  That’s what dreams were for, my friends would joke.  But I was serious.  My body was able and reasonably strong.  But it always seemed to tire before my mind did. 

It had started as an innocent investigation.  Exercises I might do.  Mental methods I might try.  Tonics I might consume. 

The next thing I knew, I was practicing alchemy.

It would work.  The doorway would work.  Or it wouldn’t, and there would be no harm done other than the time I lost in building it. 

I called it the “doorway of division.”  It was meant to divide me—my mind from my body.  I would be able to do what I longed to do, keep thinking while my body rested.  Unfettered from the physical limits of my brain, my mind would be able to work into the night and through the night: solving, resolving, refining, devising.  I would still need my body to realize whatever my mind devised.  But when I woke, instead of jotting down ideas that would require tinkering and developing before they faded from my memory, my mind will have done that work while I slept.  I would be starting from a huge advantage. 

***

The next morning, after breakfast, I gathered stones, pebbles, and twigs from my yard.  I pitched them across the threshold of the activated doorway.  Nothing seemed to happen to them, but that was expected.  Stones and twigs don’t have minds. 

I reached out with my own hand again.  This time I let my fingers pass across the threshold, expecting to feel…something.  Some tension.  Some spark.  There was nothing. 

So I plunged half my arm through and still nothing happened.  But again, that was to be expected.  A whole living being would have to pass across the threshold for the doorway to have any effect.  I had just hoped that I would feel something, something that indicated that I had built the doorway correctly. 

I examined the doorway, letting my gaze trace its every line and edge.  That’s how I spotted the little uninvited witness to my experiment.  I’d placed the generator on the floor, right beside the doorframe.  Between the generator and doorframe there was a new web, and sitting near the edge of the web was a spider.  A light grayish-brown ordinary house spider.  It crawled onto the surface of the doorframe.  So I knelt and reached out to brush it away.

Before I could, the spider fled from me.  It crawled right over the threshold and through the doorway.  I stopped myself from passing through after it.  I rose and stepped around to the other side of the doorway, surveying the floor for the spider.  I didn’t see.  It wasn’t on the frame.  I stepped toward the front of the doorway.

I didn’t know much about spiders.  It occurred to me that the spider had been unbothered by the electrical current.  But was still perturbed by the sudden movement toward it of a much larger creature.

I kicked myself for not having quicker hands or eyes.  If I’d caught the spider, I could have examined it over a few days.  I couldn’t say whether spiders had minds or not, but unlike the stones and twigs, they were alive.  I hadn’t intended for any to pass through the doorway until I had tested it first, but it had happened.  I could have made good use of the accident, if I’d been quicker.

I decided it would be both useful and necessary for me to find that spider, if I could.  I spent the morning searching the shed.  I found a few spiders and captured as many as I could with my lumbering hands.  I hoped that one of them was the spider who had passed over the threshold.  And that I would be able to discern that spider by any change that came over it from its passing through my doorway of division.

The shed grew stuffy from my exertion and the closed door.  I was hungry and thirsty.

When Arthur started barking for me to come out and play with him, as I’d promised I would on my vacation, I was more than ready to leave my experiment alone for the day.

***

The spiders all seemed unchanged after a few days.  Alive and well.  Irritated by their confinement.  Reluctantly eating the tiny flies I threw in their jars. 

Maybe I hadn’t caught the one spider that had crossed my doorway.  Without knowing for sure, the spiders would tell me nothing. 

I examined the doorway again, not expecting to see anything.  And as it tends to happen sometimes, it was when I didn’t expect to find something that I found something.

Between the inactive generator sitting on the ground and the right side of the doorway, there was a web, and sitting at the edge of that web, was a spider. 

I moved slowly this time, cautious about spooking the spider.  But as I knelt down, the spider left its web and crawled toward me, then stopped.  A coincidence, I thought. 

I had one of the glass jars in my hand, containing one of the other spiders.  It was more agitated than I’d typically seen them.  Circling around and around the bottom of the jar.  I removed the rubber band holding the cloth over the jar’s top.  I gently lowered the jar and slid the other spider out.  I didn’t see where it went.  I kept my gaze fixed on the spider sitting on the floor.  I was too far away to capture it.  I rested my left hand on the floor and leaned forward on my knees, holding the glass jar in my right hand. 

The spider moved too.  I froze, but the spider had moved toward me again.  It stopped and seemed to watch me.  I smiled a little.  It seemed we were in some kind of standoff, this spider and me.

A standoff that the spider broke when it charged me.  It crawled onto my left hand and stopped.  I felt a sudden sharp pain on the back of my hand.  I cried out as I raised my hand off the floor and flung the spider off.  I checked my hand.  The skin was already turning red.  I glanced at the ground.  The spider was charging me again.  Before I could stand, it crawled over my left shoe.  I couldn’t see it past the cuff of my pants leg.  I felt another sharp pain, on the side of my ankle this time.

I raised my pant leg, saw the spider, reached down to brush it off, and found it on my left hand again.  In my palm.  I made a fist to crush it.  But it skittered around to the back of my hand.  It bit me again.

I cried out again.  In anger this time. 

Outside the shed door, I heard Arthur barking.

I flung the spider away again.  Watching it, this time, and not my hand.  It landed on the ground.  And my foot landed on the spider.

I winced.  “Sorry,” I said.  And I winced again as the horrific image of fangs piercing my shoe and the bottom of my foot crossed my thoughts.

I raised my foot, ready to bring it down again if need be. 

But the spider was dead.

A throb of pain seized my hand, then my ankle.  I set the glass jar down on the counter beside the others and noted that two of the three other jars were now empty. 

I glanced around, expecting an attack from a legion of spiders. 

I backed away and turned to leave the shed.  When I stepped on the left foot, I felt a spike of pain in my ankle.  I had obviously been mistaken about what kind of spider had spun its web on my doorway.  It was no ordinary house spider that spit such noxious venom.

I limped to the door and opened it to find a concerned and agitated Arthur on the other side.  I ruffled his head with my right hand, keeping my sore and throbbing left hand held against my body. 

Arthur barked.  His nose twitched as he smelled something he didn’t like in my hand.  He tried to leap up for a closer smell, or maybe to lick my face to comfort me. 

I stepped back to keep my balance.  I stepped back onto my left foot.  A shattering pain struck my ankle, I stumbled, my arm wheeling, trying to regain my balance.

Arthur’s front paws slipped off me and landed on the ground.  His nose caught a scent in the shed. 

No, I thought, as he leapt past me.

“No!  Arthur, stop!”

Dogs are quick.  But my boy Arthur was the quickest. 

The generator was off.  There was nothing to fear. 

“Arthur, no!  Sit!  Heel!”

He stopped before the threshold, for just a blink.  I hoped it would scare him, the strange sight of a doorway in the middle of a room.  I hoped that he would turn around.  I limped toward him.  He strolled through the doorway.  He turned around and came to me when I called him.

The generator was off.  There was nothing to fear. 

I had no reason to shake as I clutched Arthur by his collar and guided him out of the shed.  I had no reason to weep as I knelt down and buried my face in the thick fur of Arthur’s neck.  I had no reason to be so short of breath.

It was the pain of the spider bites, surely.  I had to treat them.  I had to look after myself.  Arthur was all right.  He would be all right.

The generator was off.  There was nothing to fear.

***

I woke to the sound of rain the next morning.

I opened my eyes, swung my legs over the side of the bed, and set them on the ground, before I remembered about my ankle.

But there was no pain.  My left hand was likewise fine.  No pain.  No swelling.  No itching.  I flexed my fingers.  I shook my head.  I would investigate later.

For now, I needed to find Arthur.  A flash of light seeped through the closed drapes of my bedroom window.

“Arthur,” I called gently, walking along the hallway, floorboards squeaking all the more loudly as they warped from absorbing the dampness in the air.  I would go first to the space between the couch and the end table, both of which I had moved to the center of the house, against a wall, with enough space between them for Arthur to squeeze in. That’s where I usually found him during thunderstorms.

I spotted him before I could check his usual spot.  Arthur was sitting on a chair in front of the living room window.

He had nosed the curtain aside.  His head was behind it, and he was gazing out through the window at the sky.  Lightning flashed.  Thunder cracked.  I jerked.

But Arthur did not. 

He seemed calm. 

Arthur did not fear people.  He didn’t fear most things.  But thunderstorms, even just heavy rain, terrified him.  They always had, ever since he was a puppy.

Arthur turned his head and arced his neck back to watch me approach.  I smiled at him and patted his head.  He yawned and dropped from the chair.  He padded to the front door and pawed at it, his sign to be let out.

“You are aware that it’s pouring outside,” I said, shuffling over to the door.

He pawed again and I opened the door.  Arthur dashed outside.  I gasped as the chill air hit me.

Arthur ran around the yard.  He was actually frolicking outside during a thunderstorm.  I had liked the rain when I was young.  But since finding Arthur, I’d learned to dread storms because of how much he feared them.

Right now, that dread was replaced by the fear of Arthur being struck by lightning.

“Arthur!” I called.  “Come here!”

I suspected he was pretending that he couldn’t hear me.

I thought of the doorway, of course.  The generator was off.  But maybe the doorway was holding a charge somehow.  I hadn’t expected that.  But if the doorway was active when Arthur passed through…

“The doorway has divided your fear from you,” I muttered.  But I wasn’t sure why that would be.  I wasn’t sure if it meant that his fear would rear itself at some other moment.  It was still there.  The doorway hadn’t removed it.

I thought of the spider, of course.

I wondered if I should close my bedroom door as I slept, at least until I could properly observe and investigate the doorway’s effect on Arthur.  I should also keep him contained, in case he turned as vicious as that spider had.

The only hope I had that my fears were ungrounded was that I still wasn’t sure that the spider that had attacked me was the same one that had passed through my doorway.

***

I watched him for seven days.  Arthur seemed to have suffered no ill effects.  His temperament was the same.  Yet I was growing more and more afraid that I would open the bedroom door one day to find him waiting there, waiting to rip my throat out.

I had found nothing in my research.  I reread two whole books that I had already studied through and through.  I reviewed all my notes and observations from the building of the doorway, and the little that I had gleaned from the incident with the spider.  There were two things I didn’t know.  And that was troubling.  I didn’t know why or how the doorway had held the electrical charge.  And I didn’t know how it had divided Arthur.

I had of course studied how I could reverse the effects of the doorway in case something went wrong, or even if everything went right.  I had drafted a procedure for how to modify the doorway to reunite what it divided. 

I could make those modifications and send Arthur through.  And then observe him more to make sure he was really okay.

My vacation was coming to an end.  Once I returned to work, I wouldn’t have the time and the energy I needed to devote to my experiment.  I wouldn’t be home all day to watch over Arthur.

And I would not have a chance to try the doorway of division on myself.

***

I left Arthur in the house, just in case, and I told him I would be right back.

I went to the shed.

A small part of me was still uncertain.  A butterfly followed me in.  It fluttered past me, through my doorway, and it emerged on the other side, its black-and-orange wings sparkling and glittering as if they were bejeweled.

Not bothering to close the door, I followed.  I walked through my doorway.

I felt no change.  I watched the butterfly flicker past me again and fly out the shed.  The sight filled me with a calm hope.

It was then that I happened to glance down at my feet and see something lying at the threshold of the doorway.  A gray segmented thing with tiny spines along its side, squirming and pulsing.

***

I woke to the sound of barking.  It was raining.  A distant clap of thunder jolted me fully out of sleep.  I heard the cawing of a crow.

I rose and examined myself in the bathroom mirror.  I didn’t feel divided.  My mind wasn’t any sharper from what I could tell, but then, I hadn’t given it any problems to solve or projects to ponder. 

“Maybe tonight,” I said.

I was answered by a growling.  I turned to the bathroom door, even though I could tell it was coming from outside.

“Arthur…”

I rushed to the bedroom window and looked down into the front yard.  Rain was pouring in thick trickles over the window.  I couldn’t see past it, but I heard more clearly.  The growling was definitely coming from down there. 

I scrambled down the stairs and out the front door.

Then I stopped.

Arthur resumed barking again.  He was facing another.  The other…it stood on four limbs, had a torso, a head.  If it was a dog, it was like no dog I’d ever seen.  Even through the blur of rain, I saw that its skin was a brittle dark gray and without fur.  Its mouth was slavering, but not with spittle or rain, but with blood, as if it had just attacked or killed something.  Its ears were ragged and torn.  Its eyes were red, not bright red from the reflection of light, but deep dark red like two puddles of blood. 

The monstrous dog opened its mouth and uttered a roar that almost sounded like the word “run.”  My heart stopped.  I gasped.  I couldn’t move. 

I saw another dog in the yard, lying down, behind Arthur.  I couldn’t see any blood.  But if there had been any, the rain would have washed it away in seconds.  I couldn’t see the dog’s chest rising and falling with breath. 

I wanted to call out to Arthur.  I wanted him to run to me.  He was quicker than most other dogs.  He could reach me.  We could run inside.  We could shut the door against that monstrosity.

How Arthur was unafraid in the face of that creature, I couldn’t…I couldn’t fathom.  But he seemed to have put himself between the nightmare hound and the dog that was lying still on the ground.  Arthur kept barking, but when the bloody-eyed hound stepped forward, Arthur took a step back. 

I watched.  It was all I could do.

Where is your courage?  The question came from me, a voice inside my mind.  And that voice sounded dismayed.

There was no sun, no light, and yet a shadow stretched across the porch stairs, across the yard.  My shadow.  The monstrous dog stopped advancing.  He started backing away, then turned, and dashed off into the woods beyond.  Arthur dashed off after it. 

For a few minutes, or several minutes, I stood frozen at the edge of my porch.  I shook myself loose of the fear, at least enough to go to the still form of the dog lying on the ground.  When I was a few feet away, I could see that he looked a lot like Arthur, the same mix of breeds in the same proportions.  But when I was right above him, I could see that he wasn’t just like Arthur.  The dog lying still on the ground…it was Arthur.  But it couldn’t be.  I had just seen Arthur run off after that monstrous other.  I dropped to my knees and let my hand just touch the dog’s chest.  I felt no movement.

“He died of fright, poor creature.” 

I glanced up and saw Arthur standing there before me.  But something seemed strange about him.

“You’ve passed through the doorway, haven’t you?” he said.  “I can already see you unraveling.” 

The dog—Arthur—was speaking.  His mouth wasn’t opening or moving.  But I heard the words in my ear, past the crashing of thunder and the pelting of rain.  I peered at the dog who’d spoken.  He was unaffected by the rain.  It seemed to be falling a few inches above him and sliding away before it could touch him.  His fur was dry, fluffy and shiny. 

Arthur lowered his head toward the dog on the ground.  “My body is gone.” 

I shook my head.  I repositioned myself and scooped my arms underneath the dog.  Arthur couldn’t be gone, and he couldn’t go like this.  I hefted the rain-soaked body.  He’d once been so light, so small I could hold him in one hand.  I’d almost walked past him.  But I just barely heard him.  And I found him, hiding under a fallen tree branch, shivering, too frightened to even whimper, shrinking against the branch every time the sky flashed with lightning. 

I carried the body inside and the other one—Arthur’s ghost, I guessed—followed.  He said nothing more, but watched me fetch towels and start a fire, and check for breathing.

When I finally stopped and sat next to the body, rubbing the chest, the dog who was untouched by the rain stood beside me.  He began to speak again.

He began to explain.

“On the first day after passing through the doorway, I felt myself already being cleaved away.  I tried to reattach, even as another part shifted out of place.  Then another and another.  I could no longer see where I belonged.” 

I frowned.  “But you’ve been—Arthur has been the same.  Except for losing his fear of thunderstorms.”

“Not all changes are evident, even significant ones,” the dog said.  “You have seen many sides of me.  All these sides still exists.  But they are in disarray.”

I looked down at the dog lying still on my floor.  “And this is the eventual result?”

“A whole twisted into a new shape that does not remember the old.  A whole slowly sliced into pieces that do not know how to come back together.  And so they move farther and farther apart.  That is what your doorway has done to me.” 

I gulped.  My hand, still stroking wet fur, began to shake.  “Forgive me, Arthur.”

“Granted.  I forgive you.  And I ask something of you.”

“What is it?  I’ll do it.”

“Be steady, not reckless.  Don’t agree to my request before you’ve heard it.”

“You’re right.  You’re…wise.”

“The owls envy me.  For I am the soul of a dog.”

I wanted to smile, to reach out and pat his head.  But I didn’t.

“You will not be able to put me back in order,” he said.  “But you must not leave me like this, a restless ghost.  And you must not let that angry creature roam free.”  He was talking about the monstrous dog with the unsettling roar.

“What is he?” I asked.  “Your evil side?”

“Only one animal has an evil side.” 

I glanced over at him, and sighed.  “Humans.”

“You have more to fear from yourself than from my mind.”

“Your mind?”

“That monster.  That is my mind.  Untempered by a heart or a soul, even the mind of a dog is a ferocious thing.”

I gulped and cleared my throat, my hand still absently stroking damp fur.  “Will that happen to me?

“Or worse.” 

“How do I stop it?” I frowned.  I thought I knew the answer.  But it wasn’t coming to me.

“It is easier to cast into disorder than it is to place into order.  A great effort must be made.  A great exertion.  And a change to the doorway.”

“What change?”

“A change that you haven’t the skill or knowledge to make.  You must find the one who does have that knowledge, and convince him to help you.”

“Convince who?”

“Convince you.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You will.  You will encounter yourself soon enough.  I must go and find my heart and my mind.  I will lead them here.  You must be ready when we return.  The farther they go from me, the longer we are separated, the fainter their scents become.  If I wait too long, I will never find them again.”

He went to the door and I let him out.  And I tended to the dog lying before my fire, hoping I wasn’t tending to a corpse.

I didn’t measure the time, so I didn’t know how long I sat there, not rising to eat or drink, stroking fur that eventually dried and warmed.  I felt a stirring in my hand and stopped moving it.  It could have been a spasm in my finger.

I flexed my fingers a few times and thought I glimpsed a movement of the fur. 

I held my own breath and lay my hand gently on the dog’s chest.  I couldn’t tell if I felt something or if I felt nothing.  I went to search the kitchen drawers for a mirror, frantically searching until I realized that I didn’t need a mirror.  Any glass surface would do, or metal.  I grabbed a small glass plate from the cupboard and brought it to the living room.  I placed it against the dog’s nostrils.  Again, I saw nothing.  One hand held the glass against his nose, and the other lay gently on his chest.

In a few moments time, I felt the slow but certain rise and fall of his chest.  I put the glass plate down. 

Arthur’s eyes fluttered open.

***

Someone was shaking me.  My shoulder.  Shaking me awake. 

I opened my eyes. 

I stared up at the ceiling, not knowing where I was.  I wasn’t in my bedroom.

I felt heat and turned my head toward it. 

The fire.  In the living room.  My mind caught up with my perceptions.  I’d fallen asleep lying on the ground in the living room, beside Arthur.  I could see the steady rise and fall of his chest now.  He took a breath and sighed. 

I rose, frowning at the stiffness in my back.  The room was dark.  The house was dark.  The only light came from the fire.  It wasn’t raining anymore.  I drew the curtains of the living room window and turned on the porch light.  The shadow of a man appeared on the curtains.  I hadn’t seen anyone standing outside.

Someone grabbed me from behind, clapped a hand over my mouth, and pulled me back from the window.  I froze and thought of Arthur lying helplessly asleep on the floor.  The man who’d grabbed me let me go and turned me around.

He put a finger to his lip and pointed to the front door.  He stepped closer to me.  In the firelight I saw. 

The other man was me.

“I’ve adjusted the doorway,” he whispered.  “It’s ready.”

I glanced over at Arthur.

“We have to go first,” the other me said.

I glanced back at him.  “Are you my mind?”

He shook his head.  “Not exactly.  But sure.  Look, we don’t have much time.  Once the meat is cooked, it can’t be uncooked.” 

“What?”

“The doorway.  What it’s done to us—and to Arthur—can be reversed, but only for a little while.  If we miss that deadline—“

“—then we’ll be like this for good.  We have to act while we’re still raw.  I get it.”

The other me nodded.  “That’s not the only thing we have to worry about.”  He pointed to the front door.  “He wants to be free.  So long as we’re all alive, he can’t be.  He wants to kill us.”

“The shadow?”

“Shadows are harmless.  Natural ones.  He’s no shadow.”

“How do you know he’s the evil one?”

The other me frowned.  “Can’t you feel it?”

I glanced at Arthur.  “Arthur’s soul didn’t know that Arthur’s body was still alive.”

The other me nodded.  “The longer we stay separated like this, the more we lose touch with our other aspects.  It’s been several days since Arthur went through the doorway, but less than a day for us.  However, there’s another variable.  He’s a dog.  We’re human.  The point-of-no-return might be different for us.”  He shrugged and shook his head.  “Look, I have some bad news for you.”

I braced myself. 

“For the reversal to work, we each have to go through in the correct order.”  The other me glanced over at the window, though there was no shadow there now.  “He has to go through last.  But he’ll have to be forced through, by the one of us who has to go second to last.”

He paused, and I realized what he’d left unsaid.

“Me,” I said, my gut growing cold.  “I’m second to last.”

The other me nodded.  “We have to go out there and grab him.”

I shook my head. 

The other me sighed.  “I know you’re scared, but you can do it.”

He misunderstood.  I wasn’t shaking my head because I was scared.  I remember being scared, scared of Arthur’s monstrous mind.  With good reason.  I was shaking my head because I had just realized something else.  And I felt something else, from the other me, from the shadow outside my window. 

“Real evil doesn’t skulk around in the shadows,” I said, peering at the other me.  “It whispers in your ear.  It even tells you true things, mixed in with the lies.”

The other me pretended to frown in confusion.  But then his brow relaxed, and he sighed again.  “You’re smarter than you look.”  He reached behind himself and pulled out a knife.

There was fear.  But I wasn’t the one who felt it.  The fear was outside, outside on the front porch.

Something banged against the front door as I backed away from the other me.  The evil me.

He swiped his knife at me and I dodged back, just hoping he didn’t turn his knife toward Arthur.

Another bang, and the front door burst open. 

“Arthur, attack!” my voice said.

But I wasn’t the one who spoke.

With a monstrous growl a hulking gray shape loped through the door toward the evil me and clamped a jaw on his wrist.  I cried out as a sharp pain jabbed my wrist.  The evil me dropped the knife.

I glanced over at the front door.  Three other men who looked like me and two dogs who looked like Arthur walked in.

“The doorway is ready,” one of the other me’s said. 

One of the other dogs, bearing a ghostly glow in the light of evening, padded in and gazed at the Arthur who was now waking before the fire.

“He’s…I’m alive.”

I beamed at him.  “Yes, you’re alive, Arthur.”

***

Five men and four dogs who were actually one man and one dog went to the shed where I had built a freestanding doorway using alchemy and carpentry.  Humming with electricity. 

“You’re the one who has to go first,” one of the other me’s said.  His hair seemed to be sparking, as if with static electricity.  “Then me.”  He turned to the others.  “Then you, then you, dragging the other.  Arthur, make sure you let go.  Don’t let him drag you through with us.”

“Are you sure of the order?” I asked.  I turned to the one of me who would have to go second-to-last.  “I can take your place if the order doesn’t matter.”

“It does matter, and we don’t have time for arguments.”

I knew he was right.  I could feel that he was.  “I’m guessing most of what he told me is true,” I said, glancing at the evil me, who looked just like every other me.  He seemed stunned.  He didn’t look at anyone or anything.  He didn’t say anything.  He just existed…quietly.  I shuddered. 

We all had to walk through backwards so that second-to-last me wouldn’t have to turn his back on the evil me.  I had questions for the one I suspected was my mind.  And he looked like he had answers to give, and like he wanted to give them.  But we just didn’t have the time.

I walked through the doorway backwards.

As I stepped through, I blinked, and all the other me’s vanished.

I saw only four dogs. 

“I think it worked,” I said, feeling a slight greasy churning in my belly.

“Then it’s our turn,” the ghostly Arthur said.  That was Arthur’s soul.  Arthur had a soul.

I turned to Arthur’s mind.  “Thank you…for coming back.”

He bowed his monstrous head.  “Our disagreement was at an end,” he said, in a smooth refined voice that sounded nothing like the other Arthur.  And this one’s mouth had moved. 

I was startled at first.  Then…I felt a surge of love for him.    

The Arthurs began to walk through the doorway.  His soul went last.  He saw the look on my face and said, “We cannot stay this way.”  Then he walked through the doorway.

And I had my Arthur back.

***

That very night I dismantled the doorway.  My mind had left the instructions for me.  Arthur waited for me in the house, not uttering a single bark.

He greeted me at the front door, and we both ate a late dinner, during which it started raining.  At the first gentle rumbling of thunder, Arthur whimpered a bit.

I headed to the couch.  I could sleep there if Arthur needed to hide in the spot where he felt safest. 

Maybe he would hide there later.  For now, he jumped up on the couch and arrayed himself over my lap.  I laughed.

“I guess I won’t be needing a blanket.”

Thunder boomed, closer now.  Arthur whimpered again, but he didn’t move.

“I have work ahead of me, Arthur.  I can’t just assume and hope that the doorway is done for.  I only dismantled the physical frame.  But we both know that there is more to the world than the physical.”

Arthur scooted back a little and raised his head to look at me.  I peered back at him.

I couldn’t read his thoughts.  All I could see in his gleaming brown eyes was what I had always seen.  He held my gaze.  And I held his.

“I think a tiny bit of that evil in me just died,” I said, stroking his head.

Arthur huffed, put his head down, and settled into sleep.

Good idea, I thought.  And I too let every part of me rest as a thunderstorm approached.


Copyright © 2021  Nila L. Patel

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