This is a combination of three previously posted sections of speculative fiction. The story itself is unfinished as of this writing. (--Tanya)
In my defense, my aunt never specifically said not to go through the door in the bookcase. She just said not to touch it. And I didn’t, not for ages. I’d find reasons to be in the library so I could keep an eye on it, sure. I mean, little doors are beyond creepy. I’d curl up in the big leather armchair and watch it over the top of whatever book I was reading. But I never touched it.
I thought the door was a book, at first. It looked like a book - you know, one of those big ones full of art no one actually looks at, they just buy it so they can put it on their coffee table and seem like the type of person who would look at a big book of art.
It’s wood, I think - but wrapped in leather. There’s more books all piled around it facing every which way, and none of them have words on them either, so it honestly looks like the cover of just another book. There’s not even a doorknob. But it’s definitely a door.
I asked my aunt about it at breakfast one day. That’s when she told me not to touch it. Well, to be specific, she said not to touch anything in my uncle’s bookcase or his office and I should know better, now why didn’t I go to my room and play video games like a normal kid, at least stop pestering her because she had to go to work and nothing better go missing while she’s gone and dear lord jesus school better start soon or she was going to go crazy.
Tell me again how ‘remaining living relative’ was ‘in the minor child’s best interest’?
Aunt Ellie … well, she doesn’t like me. She loved my mom, she just didn’t like my dad. She says he’s the reason mom died. She says I look just like him. It’s okay, I don’t like her much either. But I didn’t get a say in where they sent me when dad was … well, when he died.
At least in three years I’ll be eighteen, and then I can do my own thing. Maybe college, maybe a road trip like dad and I always talked about. If I can get back from … wherever here is, anyway.
To be clear, I didn’t touch the door. It opened by itself. It had to have, there’s no knob on it for me to turn. Though now that it’s closed again and I’m looking at the other side of it, I don’t see a knob over here either. Just a pile of books in a big wooden bookcase.
It looks pretty much the same, except I’m not in my uncle’s office. I’m definitely not in Aunt Ellie’s house, she’d burn the place down before she let it get this dirty. To be honest, I’m not sure I’m even in New Hampshire. Or America. Or, you know, on planet earth.
“Don’t scream, okay?”
I screamed. Well, not at first. First I had a heart attack and looked over my shoulder to see who said it. It wasn’t until I saw the dead kid that I screamed.
“I said not to scream, stupid,” the kid said, stepping closer and closing a door behind him. He looked genuinely terrified; as much as he could with half his face missing and his jawbone showing, anyway.
“Well that’s a stupid thing to say when you sneak up on someone. And of course I screamed, you’re —”
“In danger, so shut up and hide before the Keeper finds us!”
Hide. Danger. That much I understood, and muscle memory sent me climbing. Dad always taught me that when someone’s looking for a child, they’ll always look down - under tables or desks or beds. So if you’re in real danger, go up. I went up.
The shelves of the bookcase were sturdy and I wasn’t so long out of the life that I couldn’t reach the top without knocking anything over or down. From there it was a short jump to the top of a massive cabinet, which was closer to the beams in the ceiling. I’d only just pulled myself up onto the beam and stood on tiptoe, curving my body into the shadow of the roof when the door smashed open beneath me.
The Keeper - whatever it was - was hunched and hooded and definitely looking down. Looking for the dead kid, probably, drawn by my scream. I scanned the rest of the room for a way out - one window, boarded up, on the other side of the room. The door the dead kid came through, now broken by the Keeper. The little door in the bookcase was useless - I couldn’t reach it without being seen, and there was no way to open it even if I could. Nothing else, not even a skylight.
If you can’t get out, shut up. That was the rule. So I bit my lip, slowed my breathing, and listened.
“The boy should not have looked.” The Keeper’s voice was as creepy as you’d expect, like whispering and hissing at the same time. It walked slow, checking under and behind the table and chair. No. Not walked. It shuffled. Like I said, creepy. “We told the boy not to look,” it said, peering behind an overturned bench.
The Keeper reached into a pile of dusty fabric under the single window, and pulled the poorly hidden dead kid out by one of his bony ankles. “The boy will come with us,” it said, straightening up to an unexpected height.
The kid screamed, dangling from one leg with his shirt up in his armpits, but the sound was so high pitched I almost couldn’t hear it. It was more like I felt it - dead or not, the boy was scared out of his mind.
“I didn’t see anything I swear I didn’t,” he said, writhing in the Keeper’s grip. “I won’t tell anyone anything, just let me go home, you said I could go home, please…”
The Keeper turned and began to walk back towards the door, not seeming to notice the howling dead boy kicking wildly at it’s arm and chest and face. It paused, directly beneath me, tilting it’s head like it was listening - or smelling. I stayed silent, years of practice coming back in the heart-stopping fear of that single moment. I didn’t breathe. I didn’t blink. I stayed in the rafters, just like dad taught me, until the boy’s screams faded into the distance.
In the silence left behind by the hissing Keeper and the howling boy, I tip-toed along the wooden beam to the boarded up window on the opposite side of the room. It was filthy, but letting in some light - wherever I was, it was daytime, anyway.
Dust swirled under my boots, and I was glad I’d worn them - Aunt Ellie hated them, of course, they were combat boots and I was fifteen, young lady, what kind of combat was I going into that I needed such thick soles and side pockets? If she only knew. Besides, Aunt Ellie’s approval wasn’t going to protect my feet when I hit the floor, or kicked out the window, or made a run for it.
The drop to the floor wouldn’t be too bad; I’d learned how to fall almost before I could run, but I just didn’t know how good the Keeper’s hearing was. Hell, I didn’t know what the Keeper even was, the last thing I wanted to do was make enough noise to get its attention. I sat on the beam, gauging the distance, wondering if I should try to land in the pile of curtains the dead kid had been hiding in. The dead kid. I couldn’t seem to stop seeing his face.
He’d been so scared. I don’t think he knew he was dead, honestly. He still wanted to go home, he still thought he could … and he’d come to this room to try to do it. Why? Did he get here the same way I did? Does he know something I don’t, like how to open the door in the bookcase? Either way, he was the answer. And he was dead. And the Keeper had taken him.
“Well, shit,” I said under my breath.
I took stock - I had my pocket knife, of course. Well, my second one. Or technically the third, but the real first one didn’t count since it was my decoy knife that I let the cops think was my only one the day I got arrested. Aunt Ellie took the second one when I was unpacking because there was no need for that sort of thing in her home, thank you very much. Like she knew anything. The sigil knife was under my bed back in the guest room, though. Dad’s false-bottom duffel let me keep the important stuff away from them, at least.
I had my lock picks in my boot next to the matches, the packet with the floss and sewing needle was in the other boot. Paracord bracelet, leather belt. Dad’s wedding ring was on the chain around my neck like always, but that was it. No phone, no food, no money. Awesome.
Well. Back the way I came then, along the beam and jumping down to the cabinet and over to the bookcase and back down the shelves, careful not to knock anything over. Still no sign of the door in the bookcase opening, or even a way to open it. Just books, books, and more books.
I opened one, not really in a hurry to go looking for a dead kid or a monster just yet, but it was weird. There were words on the pages, I just couldn’t seem to focus on them - or no. It was like the words wouldn’t be still long enough for me to get a good look at them. Which is not how books usually behaved, in my experience. Not even Latin got this frisky. Where on planet F was I?
I put the book back, pulled my knife, and headed out through the door the Keeper had broken. The first thing I noticed was the cold - coming off the stone walls of the corridor and carried on a breeze that smelled of snow. My short sleeved shirt wasn’t going to do much to keep me warm if I’d been zapped North of the Wall or something. Mental note: steal a jacket. I took another slow inhale, sensing past the chill, and picked up the scent of a fire somewhere ahead. Wood, not charcoal or gas. Did Keepers get cold?
There were a few doors along the way, but I was following the smell of smoke and the memory of the dead kid’s echoing screams. I hadn’t heard any doors open or close, so I left them alone. There were no lights to speak of, and as I got farther from the room with the bookcase, the shadows got darker and deeper. I kept going - one hand on the wall to guide me while I was blind - and as my eyes adjusted I picked up the flickers of firelight up ahead, there on the left. The hallway kept going, but the fire was my first stop.
It took approximately forever, but I finally reached the room with the fire. I kept low and risked a quick glance, pulling back immediately into the shadow beside the doorway while my brain sorted what my eyes had seen. Dead kid. Cage. Fire pit. Dog. No Keeper.
Wait. Dog? I braved a second look, longer this time, but not by much. That was no dog. It was a wolf, bigger than me by a lot, and not remotely asleep. Lucky for me it was watching the dead kid, not the door. I fidgeted with my dad’s wedding ring, feeling the knife solid in my other hand and the cold of the stone seeping through my shirt into my back.
It wouldn’t be the first time, but … last time was different. I was younger, dumber, and I didn’t have a choice. Without Taxi Bob’s help, I might have died that night instead of walking away the next week with a shoulder full of stitches and a new appreciation for whiskey.
But Taxi Bob wasn’t here and the wolf was - and with the wolf in there, that meant the Keeper was out here, somewhere, with me. No way to kill a wolf quiet-like, so I’d be bringing the Keeper and anything else within earshot down on my head … nope. Sorry, dead kid. Your answers are just going to have to wait.
There’s nothing like fear to sharpen the senses, and nothing like being lost and alone with the threat of something huge and hissing waiting in the darkness to give you a taste of real, uncompromising fear. I could hear the dead kid crying. I could hear the fire crackling, and the the wolf’s breathing, and the wind rushing along outside the stone walls of wherever I was. I was definitely not in Aunt Ellie’s house, but even with everything I knew, an alternate dimension seemed far-fetched.
Monsters, sure. Those were everywhere, and while most of them turned out to be human, some didn’t. Dad had even said demons were real, and how to kill one had been part of my training just like going up to hide, picking a lock, hot-wiring a car, or where to put the knife to do the most damage to whatever’s trying to kill you, from weirdo to wolf to wendigo.
The idea of dead kids being less dead than they maybe should be was not strange at all, but … all of that was supposed to happen in the real world. My world. Not through the looking glass, or the bookcase, whatever.
It’s like that TV show, you know, with the brothers and the flannel and the car. I’m surprised how much they get right, honestly. It’s a harmless enough show, packaging the impossible shit up, labelling it as imaginary, and hiding it behind a couple of hot guys. But I’m pretty sure they’ve got someone on the writing team who knows - like, really knows. Knows like I know, like I had to know.
I’m also sure they didn’t consult that guy about the angel storyline. Real angels acknowledge humans in the exact same way that humans care about the opinions, aspirations, or religious affiliations of fruit flies. They were right about the flannel, though. I wish I’d brought mine.
One of the first things I learned was that just because a thing shouldn’t exist didn’t make it exist any less, and impossible things could kill you- or someone you loved - just as quick as anything else. So the goal was going to be to figure out where I was first, then how to get out.
So, alternate dimension? That was my first thought as I peered up and down the corridor again. There was no change in the darkness around me. Possible, though would be hard to prove or disprove.
Parallel dimension. No, those usually overlapped existing geography, at least in most accounts, and this was not the layout of Aunt Ellie’s house by any stretch of the imagination. It was also the wrong season.
Faerieland. Possible, but wholly theoretical. Of everything I’d seen, faeries weren’t on the list.
Dream. Whose? Not mine, I was sure.
Time-slip. This didn’t feel like history or future, honestly. I shivered, nearly dropping my knife. If I didn’t either get moving or get warm, the cold was going to become a problem.
The wolf’s breathing changed. I was still outside the room, pressed up against the stones of the wall, and the fire was still crackling quietly to itself behind the sniffling of the dead boy. But the even, animal breathing had changed to something - instinctive. Curious. Tiny clicks of claws on stone were a heart-stopping warning that it was coming to the door, but there was nowhere to go. Not even up.
I drew back down the corridor, back into the dark, and I waited. I went pretty far, probably not far enough to hide from the beast’s nose, but maybe its eyes. I was crouched, the knife pointing down and my hand drawn up, bracing that fist with my other. I’d uncoil all at once when it charged at me, snap the knife out and across and slash its throat. With luck and momentum, the knife would go deep enough and it would be a quiet death for the beast. If I wasn’t fast enough, I knew, I was dead. I kept my eyes trained on the flicking light coming through the door, watching for its shadow.
It appeared behind me, snuffling loudly against the back of my hair, and gently sent me sprawling with a butt of its massive head when I tried to turn and slash at it. I didn’t lose my grip on the knife, but found myself scrambling backwards on my butt as the wolf kept pressing into me, never biting or snarling or being aggressive. It just pushed, herding me towards the room with the fire and the caged dead boy.
A litany of curse words - well, just the one, really - repeated in my head as I rolled away from the wolf and got to my feet, only to have the wolf appear on the other side of me in a blink. It never stopped pressing me towards the door with its huge, warm body that smelled of earth and fire. I readied the knife, once, about to drop and aim upwards into its chest, but the wolf stopped like it could hear my thoughts, pressed me against the stone corridor wall with the mass of its body, and bared teeth longer than my whole hand in a slow show of power - still without aggression.
“Fine,” I said, making a show of folding the knife and replacing it in my pocket. Satisfied, the wolf moved and escorted me the few remaining feet down the hall.
“It’s you,” the dead kid said, sitting up straighter and pressing his face between the bars of his cage. “Why didn’t the Keeper find you?”
“I’m fast,” I said, holding in a shiver as the heat of the fire reached into the cold of my bones and shook it out like a bedsheet on a clothesline while I tried to look in every direction at once. The wolf was by the door. The cage was metal, the lock was old-fashioned. The Keeper was sprawled on the floor, lying against the wall, hidden behind a crate — I took a quick step back, reaching for my knife, but it was pretty obvious that the Keeper was no longer a threat. From the blood on the robes and the floor, it looked like we had the wolf to thank for that.
“What happened?” I asked, edging closer to get a look beneath the Keeper’s hood. The crate blocked the firelight, putting the whole scene in shadow.
“He locked me back up, and was going to get the others, but the wolf killed him!”
“Where’d the wolf come from?”
“I dunno,” the kid said, moving as close as he could to watch me. “Is it really dead?”
I was close enough to smell the bright metal of blood - there was a lot of blood. “I think so,” I said, and I pushed back the Keeper’s hood with one foot. Yeah. He was dead, all right. He was missing half his face, ragged skin flopped down to expose his jawbone and teeth, and his blue eyes were wide open and staring.
Which was stranger, I wondered, that the Keeper was human … or that he was familiar? I had to squint, leaning a little closer, certain that what I was seeing was a trick of the firelight. It wasn’t, and I felt the air drop out of my lungs, rocking my stomach into disbelieving nausea on the way by.