I stepped out onto a decrepit front porch. Wood creaked beneath my feet, and as I tasted the air around me, a shudder ran down my spine. It was stale. It even felt stiff upon my skin, like it hadn’t circulated in years. I doubled back and reached for the door I came through, but it revealed only the inside of an abandoned home. Like the wood that supported the house, my bones were beginning to creak, and I hurried quickly from the porch to the road, looking for a way out of this dread neighborhood.
It was a cul-de-sac. I strained my eyes trying to see beyond the houses, but the more I looked, the more there was simply nothing at all to see, the horizon fading to an ambiguous grey. There was only one house to my left before… before oblivion. L’oubli. The road just ended, kind of graying out like the background of a distant memory. It faded away and blended into the misty haze that filled the skies above this ghostly neighborhood.
I walked to the house on the right. Knock on the door, enter, poke around a tad, exit, and repeat. A couple of the houses had fully stocked wardrobes, and I was able to trade out my tattered boxers for clean underwear, a pair of khakis and a nice button down shirt. I even grabbed a tie, just in case I did actually run into someone in this seemingly deserted neighborhood. Might as well look dashing for the occasion.
I entered the house at the bottom of the cul-de-sac, crossing the threshold…
“I wonder where everyone is? Surely, someone lives in this ghastly neighborhood…”
… and ran right the fuck back out.
“Snails. Snails, snails, giant-fucking snails…!”
I shuddered and walked, walked and shuddered, shaking my head to clear the image of that industrial snail-cage or whatever the hell it was. I stood at the brink of oblivion, at the end of the road, and to my left was a faded blue house. I hadn’t tried that one yet, so away I went, up the drive, up the stairs, and onto the porch. I rose my fist for knocking and paused.
Perhaps this wasn’t such a good idea. I mean, if you think about it, what sort of humans or creatures would live in this sort of place? What if those mollusks weren’t the worst of it, what if I opened this door and something much, much more wretched inhabited this languid world. What if there were, I don’t know, giant spiders on the other side?
All this rumination was in vain because the door opened anyway to reveal a bearded man in a worn-out black suit. Around his neck hung an old instant camera.
What, he breathed, taking me in with ravenous eyes. I was petrified, rooted to the spot. Not often am I at a loss for words but—
My shock was beginning to curdle, mildewing, and turning to a kind of skin-crawling discomfort at being looked over in this way. Hungry. Ravenous. All words that came to mind as I stared into the eyes of this haunting apparition.
“Yeah, I, uh…,”
What to say, what to say, I felt around my pockets, grabbed hold of a couple (magic?) pens I had leftover from that one time I de-rooted an entire office block and sailed it into a forest.
“Just, you know, selling some pens here.”
That’s all he said. One word. His lips might not have even moved, it might’ve just been his body language and then my mind invented the utterance. It was hard to tell; this world wasn’t quite right, and it kinda messed with my perception.
“Look, guy,” I was shuffling uncomfortably, in a general backwards, get-me-outta-here direction, “I’m just a man with some pens, tryna sell a—fuck, oh no, please don’t.”
He’d lunged. I stumbled back, somewhat parrying his advance, but wobbling still and remaining right on the verge of toppling over. Miraculously, I managed to back all the way down the steps, but there wasn’t much hope if I couldn’t get turned around. I fended off the dude’s wild arms and clawing hands while trying to get clear for a breakaway.
“Nope, nope, nope…,” I tippy’d my toes as best I could, but still mid-turn I couldn’t move fast enough to avoid getting knocked to the ground. The guy gripped me like he was a drowning man and I his only salvation. We were laying in the malnourished lawn, which was more dirt than anything else, and I looked up at my attacker who now pinned me to the earth. Kinda looks like David, I thought to myself, although my friend David was much younger and not at all bearded.
“You have to help me!” Screamed the David lookalike, “Please, get me out of here!”
Terrified as I was, I let the my reflexes take over. Fight? Flight? Maybe a little of both, I bopped him something fierce on the nose and rolled out from under him. I ran. I tripped. This was turning into a very cliché horror movie, and I was about to get munched on by the crazed zombie-loon.
“No, no, no…,” He was panting,
“You can’t leave.
YOU CAN’T LEAVE ME HERE!”
I crossed the street. There were only a few houses I hadn’t explored yet, and this was one of them. The door wasn’t far ahead, maybe ten meters more.
“NOT THERE! YOU CAN’T GO IN THERE!
It’s bad in there.
Can’t get in anyway.
Locked the door. It’s bad and it—
It was locked because it was bad, it was locked because it was bad, it was… Goddammit, My head spun. I couldn’t get my thoughts in order, even the simplest command RUN was muddled. I stopped, pressed my thumbs into my temples to clear away the mind-muck and remembered: RUN. I ran.
And where was this man’s voice coming from? Sometimes it seemed like he was shouting at me from behind, other times the voice came from the ground or… or maybe my own head?
I tried the door, but of course it was locked. It was locked because it was…
Thought loops. I couldn’t remember what I was doing, my actions and thoughts tied up in loops that came and went without warning. I kept readjusting the top-button on my shirt, fidgeting and speaking nonsense out loud to myself.
My name is Yon Yonson, I work in Wisconsin, I work in a lumber mill there—
Wasn’t there a thing that needed doing? I swear, I walked into this room looking for something.
The people I meet when I walk down the street, They say,
What did I eat this morning? Hey, remember that zebra from before? Whatever happened to that fella’?
What’s your name? And I say
What time is it? I should check the time, I really should. There’s a place I need to be and you know what? I bet I’m running late.
“My name is Yon Yonson I work in Wisconsin…”
A moment of c l a r i t y. Through all the noise, I saw him approaching from across the street. My only solace was that he didn’t seem to be fairing any better than I; he was pulling at his suit, and tearing away at his hair. For an instant, I felt a bond, a passing moment of solidarity with my pursuer. Whatever his story was, we were both victims of this godforsaken neighborhood. That said, I was still 110% dipping out of this hell.
I still didn’t know where the portal was, but I figured I’d better try and go out the way I came. However, as I resumed my flight, it must’ve snapped my attacker out of his reverie. He took off, trailing behind me by a good five meters, neither gaining nor losing any ground; I may have been in better shape, but this guy had the added bonus of desperation and madness on his side. In total, it about evened out.
I burst through the door and ran right for a set of stairs. I slammed the door behind me and heard it connect with something other than wood.
“Uff,” grunted the man as he rolled sideways, knocked off balance by the door’s momentum. I’d reached the stairs—the wood was rotten, falling away and leaving a ravenous maw that snapped at my heels as I ascended. I danced the ballet of ghosts, skirting along the side of the stairwell, where the wood was most stable. I reached the upper-landing and turned back to face—
“Henry,” He was crying now, “I’m here, I’m back, I’m—fuck, what’s happened to me? How did we get here?”
“David!” I called back, now certain that it was my friend, or at least a facsimile from another timeline or some Terminator shit like that, “David, I—I have to go. You’re going to be alright, just… I’ll be back for you.”
“What? What are you talking about—Don’t leave me, Henry! Don’t you fucking leave me here. I don’t want to forget again, I don’t want to forget you, I don’t want to forget Will—Oh my god, Will, Will’s dead… Henry, If you leave me here I don’t think I’ll ever make it out.”
But I don’t know that I even began to say I’m sorry. I’d already left the upper landing, and now I was in a bedroom. There was a bed, a desk, a pair of chairs, an armoire where I pulled out a pair of jeans to swap out with my dapper pants. Being nicely dressed was nice for finer occasions, but who knew where I’d go next and really jeans were a safe bet any day of the week and what the fuck was I doing leaving David in this grayish hell. He was still shouting from the bottom landing—
YOU BASTARD, HENRY, YOU FUCKING BASTARD
—There were monsters, and magic, and who’s to say whether that’s really my friend down there. I’d been through trials and tribulations, hell! this may as well have been a fanciful illusion, but still there was—
I HAVE BEEN TRAPPED HERE FOR YEARS. ENTIRE YEARS, HENRY, AND NOT A SINGLE OTHER PERSON TO SHARE THEM WITH. I’LL PROBABLY DIE HERE, YOU GODDAMN—
—What if it was him. My hand was posed on the side of the armoire; I was prepping to Narnia my ass out of here. Didn’t know if it would work, didn’t care, but what if it was really him and I left? If everything he was saying was true, if he really had been trapped here for years… could you imagine? What would that do to a—
The screaming had died down to something of a whisper. Really it was just the walls between us that made it sound so, David was speaking quite normally, talking mostly to himself now. He’d already assumed I’d left, and maybe that’s why I ultimately did, but still I caught these last, portent words:
“And we looked for you Henry, we really did. But at some point, you know, you have to move on.”
But I never got a chance to ask him what he meant, my foot having caught the edge of the armoire and tipped me over into the veil of cloths that hung inside. I tumbled through the years, traversing space and time before at long last I came to rest in the center of the Nexus, the circle of doors that haunted the savannah. Now, standing in the middle of sometime and someplace, I had only one thought:
I am a truly weak creature.