April 5, 2019

The boy walked through the door to another world. He slowly stepped over to a table, his table, and took in every detail. He ran his finger across the wood and felt a scratch than ran from center to edge. He remembered the time he accidentally pulled a lamp off when he tripped over the cord. It had lost a foot then, gouging the wood as he fell to the floor in surprise. This scratch was his scratch but, he knew, not. He walked over to his bed and saw the same creases he’d left just that morning, exactly where they should be. He sat on it and noted the way it gave to his weight, precisely as it should. He ran his fingers through his sheets, noted the texture and feel, all exactly as if it were his own. He breathed deep, taking in the ever so light must that had accumulated from years of living. This was his world down to the most minute detail, even though he knew it was not.

He heard a noise and knew it too from memory. His mother was downstairs, cooking breakfast as she did, or had done no more than a few hours ago. He caught a faint whiff of smoked meat. It felt odd for his stomach to growl for a meal he’d already eaten. He idly wondered if eating the meal again would satisfy.

Another noise he identified as his sister, doing whatever sisters do in the bathroom. He spent no more time considering whether those details were accurate. The sounds were real enough to hint at minutiae he’d become accustomed to over the years, as only a long-suffering brother could.

He marveled at the detail, how his senses truly believed he was here. He made his way to the door and stepped out into the hallway. Again, it was his hallway, astonishingly accurate in every detail. His mind kept checking, looking for the discordance he felt certain must exist. If it did exist, it was beyond his ability to discern. Something about that set him on edge and a seed of doubt took root. He could do anything but move on. So he continued to his stairs and walked down them.

A new noise reached him half way down the stairs. He cocked his head in curiosity. This was a noise he didn’t remember, didn’t even recognize. A scuffle followed by a muffled shout, maybe. His heart began racing and so he did as well down the stairs. He reached the floor and almost tripped, stumbling as the rug pulled out from beneath his feet under his momentum. He recovered quickly and raced to the kitchen, where the new sound had come from.

He burst through the door and stopped in horror. There he saw his mom struggling with… with something. It was dark, black almost, as though it were eating the light in the room. It was humanoid shaped, but the proportions were all wrong, with arms too long, torso too thin. It was indistinct, as though the boundaries between it and reality were not quite real. It was a ghost, a shade, a poltergeist. It was terrible and it was moments from killing his mother.

His mind raced through his training and he tried to pull anything out that might help him defeat the thing. He belatedly recalled the proper spell and his finger twitched as he began the incantation. He was too slow. He watched in horror as his mother died beneath the very same kitchen knife she’d been using to cut vegetables.

He rushed to her even as the shade faded, reality once again asserting itself, scattering the black into the light. She tried to speak as he lifted her head but her only words were blood that soaked his hands in the warmth of her fading life. He watched the life leave her eyes. Sorrow wrenched from his throat a gasping cry of despair. He cried for a long time then, unable to prevent his mind from replaying the scene over and over again.

After some time he got up, his face drained of color, yet there persisted a spark of hope in his eyes as he walked to the kitchen door.

The boy walked through the door to another world. He looked around his room, everything perfect in its detail, exactly as he remembered it from the morning. Even now, it was tempting to trace his fingers over the long scratch on his table, reaching from center to edge. Instead, he raced out of the room, flung himself down the hall, and tore down the steps, two at a time. He jumped over the rug at the bottom, spun himself and raced into the kitchen. The shade was only just forming as he entered, giving him just enough time to complete the incantation and destroy it.

He began to cry again, then suddenly shouted out a cry of triumph. He’d done it! He saved his mom! He laughed with delight at the surprise on his mom’s face. Despite his matriculation at the college, she’d never the opportunity to witness her son perform real magic. He felt unaccountably proud at that moment.

A scream tore into the kitchen, cutting off as suddenly as it had come. It had come from upstairs, and he wasted no time scampering up the stairs to return to his familiar hallway. He aimed straight for the bathroom door, set the end of the hall, but it was locked. He pounded on it, but no one responded. He put his ear to the door but heard nothing.

His heart raced as he took several steps back, squatted for leverage, and then threw himself at the door. It cracked, but it was not enough. Encouraged by progress, he did it again, and again, and again, each time earning himself bruise and headway both. On the final time, he burst through the door, which splintered into so many pieces, and landed on his sister. Her lips were blue, her eyes wide in horror, and her mouth was open, silently gasping.

His mother choked and cried out as she pushed him off to cradle the corpse of her daughter while unconsciously rocking back and forth as she whispered something incomprehensible. The boy curled his legs under himself and rocked back and forth as tears streamed down his face, unwittingly matching his mother’s cadence.

Finally, after some time, the boy got up, looking down at his mother as she wiped her tears from her daughter’s face.

He walked to the bathroom door.

The boy walked through the door to another world. He glanced around his room, so perfect in every detail but seeing none of it. He no longer felt the need to finger the scratch on the table. Instead, he raced out, muttering an incantation even before he left his room. He finished it as he crossed into the hall, obliterating the bathroom door into a thousand pieces and revealing a stunned and very much alive little sister. Behind her was the shade.

The shade quickly wrapped its ghostly black hands around his sister’s neck, and the boy began a new chant. He was quicker now, and only a few moments later the foul thing had been banished, leaving his sister gasping in surprise and for air. Wasting no time, he raced down the hall, down the stairs, and into the kitchen. His mother was already struggling with the specter, and he quickly uttered the necessary incantation, completing it even as the knife had been poised to attack. It clattered to the floor, leaving his mother shaken but alive. He fell to his knees as he began to sound a laugh of relief, though frayed at the edges with uncertainty.

He heard a distant thud come from the study. His stomach dropped to the floor even as he rose to his feet. He quickly walked out of the kitchen, leaving a confused mother behind. In the den, he found his father, lying face down on his desk, letter opener protruding from his temple. Just a small trickle of blood ran down his father’s face and across the surface to the edge, where it dripped down slowly onto the carpet. The boy knew this image would never leave his mind. He didn’t bother trying.

He headed for the door to the den with hard eyes and a determined face.

The boy walked through the door to another world. He didn’t look at his room at all. He knew it was his room, and that was enough. This time he saved his father and his mother, leaving his sister to suffocate.

The boy walked through the door to another world. He raced from the room and saved his sister and father, leaving his mother to bleed out alone.

The boy walked through the door to another world. He saved his sister and mother again, barely making it in time to see his father die.

The boy walked through many doors to just as many worlds. In every one he found nothing but despair and failure.

The boy walked through the door to another world. He then sat down and cried silently to himself. He cried as he listened to his sister’s gasping death. He cried as he heard the scuffle below. He cried as he heard the distant thud of his father’s head hitting the desk. He cried for a long time afterward, unable to chase away so many images from his mind. He searched his mind, playing every scenario over and over until he exhausted every possible option. He knew he was not fast enough nor good enough with magic to save them all. Once he accepted that, though, the solution became obvious. He quieted then and found a peace that comes from understanding. With this surety in hand, he got up and walked to his bedroom door.

The boy walked through the door to another world. He found himself in a large room, an amphitheater of sorts, filled with stately columns, high backed benches, and people, so many people he could scarcely guess their number. They all looked at him and at once a great commotion erupted, cheers and shouts, claps and laughs. He recognized this room. He just wished he could remember what it was called.

Near the center of the room was a large stone desk, and sitting at it was a man wearing an immaculate suit, tailored, pressed and fit just right. He walked over to the man at the stone desk and as he did the room became silent. The man looked at the boy with a genuine smile, happy and encouraging. With pomp and with respect, the man pulled out a pin and set it reverently on the desk before the boy. The pin was bright and luminous, made up as it was of so many indestructible metals and precious jewels.

“Congratulation,” the immaculate man said in a sober tone, “you passed the trials. Welcome now to the greater society of mages, numbered as you are as one of us.” His words were formal and measured, carrying with them the weight of centuries.

The boy smiled and nodded confidently before looking curiously at the brooch before him. He then turned and, leaving the pin on the table, calmly walked out of the room. He ignored the uproar, an angry noise of surprise and disbelief, from the uncountable masses on endless rows of gilded benches. No one had ever turned down the magician’s pin before.

They later found the boy walking through a door in his home, back and forth, over and over again. His mother had been stabbed, found bled to death on the kitchen floor. His father they found slumped over his desk, a small trail of blood leaking from temple to floor. His sister they found with blue lips amidst the remains of a shattered door. When asked what happened, the boy only smiled and replied with certainty, “It’s only a test, but I think I passed.”

The boy turned and walked through the door.