First Five Pages

Here are the first five pages of The Other Side, a WIP fantasy novel and the first of a six-book series.

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1

The Door That Wasn’t There

The Door appears to whoever needs it, right when they need it the most.

That’s the central, unalterable rule. It’s written into the history books, the Scriptures, the diaries. It’s burned into the hearts of all who Cross through. The Door comes to those who need it.

It’s a common misconception that the Door only collects the broken, like some cosmic dust broom sweeping up loose scatterings and dumping them in a bin. People might see the Door in their weakest moment, but that doesn’t mean they are weak. Everyone falls. It’s the getting back up that’s important, and while some people can shove themselves to their feet, brush themselves off, and move on without a single glance to the side — others need help. They need a hand, outstretched.

Charley Walker wasn’t doing so well. His suit didn’t fit, for one thing. He hadn’t worn it since his college graduation, and he was pretty sure he’d torn a hole in the shoulder when he’d put it on. (He couldn’t see it, and Simon would never tell him if it was there.)

Right now, Simon was just telling Charley direct instructions—sit here, drink this, take another bite, you don’t have to talk to anyone if you don’t want to. This whole day was passing as a seamless blur thanks to Simon, when it could’ve been bright and sharp and jagged.

The morning he got the phone call–that was bright and sharp and jagged. The sunlight through the kitchen window was too bright for Charley, and he’d sat on the floor to duck away from it. The handle of the cabinet had been too sharp between his shoulder blades, but he hadn’t moved, not for hours. And his voice was jagged, hoarse and unfamiliar, when he finally called Simon and asked him to come over, because there had been a car accident, and he didn’t know what to do.

Simon had let himself into the apartment and found Charley on the kitchen floor. Charley didn’t really remember if either of them said anything. Simon had just sat there, beside him, waiting until Charley decided what to do.

The funeral arrangements fell on Charley’s shoulders, as, besides his aunt, his mother had no other close family who might take care of things. It was lucky that Simon could passably forge Charley’s signature, because as soon as the word coffin was dropped into the conversation, Charley had shut down as effectively as if someone had yanked out his power cord. All he could do, sitting in that funeral home as Simon wrote out a heinously expensive check, was wonder why Simon could forge his signature. When he’d asked on the drive home, Simon shrugged. “You have the messiest handwriting, Charley, a chimp could make a passable attempt.”

Simon had been Charley’s best friend since the first grade. Charley had kind of taken Simon’s fixture in his life for granted up until now. This week. Because suddenly, Charley couldn’t remember how to function. He’d stand at the stove for half an hour, trying to keep in his head that he was hungry long enough to actually make food. And Simon would step in, gently guide him back to the couch, and cook him something. And remind him to eat it. With every bite, Charley had to be reminded what he was doing.

Simon fixed things with the funeral home. He called Charley’s aunt, called all the distant relatives — by the end of the week, Simon was on a first name basis with third cousins twice removed that Charley wasn’t sure his mom had even met. He picked the casket—and gently reminded everyone to use the word casket—and he helped Charley search his closet for a suit to wear to the burial. And didn’t tell him when a hole ripped in the shoulder.

Charley didn’t fault Simon the secret. He was already keeping one of his own.

“Take another drink,” Charley heard as if from a distance; as though he were deep underwater, listening to warbled words from the shore. He looked down at the plastic bottle in his hand, wondered vaguely how it got there, and obediently took a sip. His aunt was giving the eulogy.

Charley had heard someone ask if he was going to say something. “I don’t think so,” someone very wrinkled and over-powdered had replied. “Look at him—he’s still in shock.”

Charley wasn’t sure if it was shock, what he was experiencing.

Actually, he was a little worried it was something much worse.

Charley was seeing a Door.

He’d capitalized it two days ago, because once you start seeing a door multiple times (always the same door, but never in the same place) it starts to seem worth capitalizing.

The first time he saw it was in the funeral parlor. Right after the man with the thin pencil mustache and the noticeably sweaty upper lip had said the word coffin. Charley had flinched, or maybe the world had flinched—a shadow flickered over the room, and in the corner of his eye, Charley spotted the Door.

He saw it again when he walked in on Simon on his cell phone, dictating the obituary to the newspaper office. Just a sudden, strange flash behind the couch, a blink of shadow and silver—because that’s what the Door was made of. A deep brown wood so dark it seemed hardly more than a shadow in the wall. A shadow with a silver handle.

That’s what caught Charley’s eye. That handle. The doorknob. Imperfectly round, impossibly bright. When he saw the Door in his bedroom that morning, around the time he swore he heard his suit rip, Charley noticed the doorknob had engravings traced over the silver. He couldn’t quite make them out, and once he’d blinked, the Door had vanished.

It was standing behind the podium now, where his aunt was tearfully eulogizing. Behind the casket (coffin) that was holding his mom. (He tried not to think of it trapping her. Or taking her. But god, those words wouldn’t shake out of his head.)

Charley concentrated on the Door instead. This was difficult, because when he stared at the Door for too long, it would go blurry, wavering at the edges like a heat warbled mirage. If he closed his eyes, he knew the Door would disappear again. So he didn’t close his eyes.

The Door was covered in nicks and scrapes. There was even a dent in the corner Charley could’ve sworn looked like the work of a hammer. And that handle—the silver was tarnished and puckered. It looked a bit like an apple-sized lump of clay, dented with fingerprints. Doused with … something. Charley squinted, and the Door lost some of its solidity. He thought the handle looked wet. Like a pitcher, sweating. Like condensation hung off the doorknob, hundreds of tiny little drops.

There was a sudden scraping of chairs all around Charley, and he started so badly he dropped his water bottle. It hit the ground and rolled under his chair. Everyone was standing up. Several noses were honking into tissues. Someone Charley thought might’ve been a great uncle came up to clap him on the shoulder. His eyes were red and watery. Charley had never seen him before in his life.

When he looked back at the casket, the Door was gone. Unease gripped Charley’s chest, and he didn’t like the relief he felt when, in the corner of his eye, he saw a shadow flit by.

#

It was hot for September, and out in the cemetery, there was nowhere for the Door to fit. Charley glanced at mausoleums, at monuments, even at some of the larger gravestones, but saw no flickers of brown. There was only the shiny white casket, lowering into the ground. There was only the flowers, bunches of them, dropped into the grave. There was only the first shovelful of dirt, and there was only Simon pressed against Charley’s shoulder, his jaw working, tears slipping down from behind his thick, black-framed glasses.

Charley couldn’t go to the repast. Simon didn’t try to force him. It was only once they were in the car, on the way back to Charley’s apartment, that Charley realized something—he hadn’t spoken all day.

“Let’s say I’m hallucinating,” he blurted, which caused Simon to look over at him so sharply he cricked his neck. Steering with one hand as he rubbed his neck with the other, Simon glanced between Charley and the road.

“Okay…” he said slowly. “Let’s say that.”

“And … let’s say this hallucination is of a Door.” Charley felt like he said that in a way that implied the capitalization.

“A door,” Simon said flatly, no capitalization apparent.

Charley rubbed at the back of his own neck, though he hadn’t cricked it. (His brain felt cricked. Bent suddenly and sharply out of whack.) “Let’s say there’s a Door following me around.”

The light quality changed abruptly as Simon pulled into the parking garage beneath Charley’s building. The car rumbled to a stop, and through the shadows, Charley spotted a certain brown rectangle appear in a thick pillar holding up the ceiling.

“Charley,” Simon said calmly, “there isn’t a door following you. You’re just…”

Charley looked down at his lap. “Just what?”

“You’re just—you’re having a hard time. That doesn’t mean you’re—You’re just having a hard time.”

Simon unbuckled his seatbelt and was out of the car in three seconds. It took Charley much longer to unbuckle himself and work the door handle. He kept thinking—Yes. He was having a hard time. But yes, a door was following him.

And somewhere deep inside him, he wondered if those two things were related.

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