Door Marked 8 (Short Story)
It’s been an entire year since I wrote the first draft of the short story/memoir below. And a wonderful, life-changing, pain-filled, and unforgettable year it was.
Oh my goodness, 2018 …Wow.
(Hey: I know it's just the beginning of December, 2018 now: but I might not remember to post anything else later--so obeying the old adage "Better safe than sorry", here's to an early end-of-the-year post.)
I wrote this piece for a writing contest last year–the topic contestants were to write on was 2018. (Nothing came out of that contest, sadly.)
However, I feel it strangely fitting that I should post this memoir of my 2017 at the end of 2018. The hope-filled longing for a brand-new start after a rather dark 2017—the note of joyful anticipation that brings this short story to a close–has been realized somewhat in the past year(2018), but there has been a lot of changes in my life since the day I sat down to write out my story of 2017. Things I’d gone through that shaped me into the person I am today. New passions, new experiences, new friends, new opportunities. Prayers answered, dreams realized, missing pieces of my life found–and accepted–with joy. But 2018 did have its darker side. Failures. Setbacks. Great disappointments. Loss of passion for different things and activities I used to cling to, to base my future on. Death. And at times–loneliness and despair. Things like that.. (This “darker side” of 2018 is the main reason why I’m posting last year’s memoir, instead of writing and posting a memoir of this year.)
Yet through it all, God has been good, too good, to me. He has shown me His love countless times in 2018. My faith has been greatly strengthened this year, especially in the past few months starting from July. For all those reminders, for all the good things–and the bad—I say, “Thank You, Father.”
As you read “Door Marked 8”, please understand that not every single thing in the story is true. It is based largely on my real, personal life–but not 100%. There are areas of the story which have been added into the plot to intensify the piece and make it more memorable. Also, written from a literary surrealist viewpoint (it really is the closest thing I’ve written to ‘fantasy’ or ‘alternate reality’), the setting and the ideas surrounding the piece are not all that accurate. But taken as a whole, this is the story of my life a little over a year ago.
At least, as close to the truth as I could bear to put on paper.
DOOR MARKED EIGHT
It was New Year’s Eve, December 31st, 2017.
Something had called me to this lonely, strange, unwelcoming corner of the world. No reason was given: it seemed as if it was simply meant to be.
The moon shone its silver rays on the snow-dusted path before me. The shimmering light illuminated rows of dead gnarled trees. Darkness pervaded the world elsewhere. A gigantic building loomed in the near distance. I squinted through the darkening night. Was it only my imagination?
Four towers broke through the misty haze. Beautifully designed. Yet gray and foreboding. I studied it, nearing the building step by faltering step.
The tower furthest to the left formed of the numeral “2”, with “0” to its right, and “1” to the right of zero. Something stood beside the number 1, but it was too dark for me to distinguish. I momentarily wondered about the architect, whoever he, she or it was. What inspired such a…a…contraption? Why would one bother to make a house with a hole in the middle, as in “0”?
“2” was at least four stories high, the “0” probably three, and Tower “1” had two levels to boast of. I halted, unsure of what to do. Something told me to enter the building. I looked around: no one was in sight.
The cold air bit at me through my clothes, initiating an involuntary shiver. Or maybe it wasn’t involuntary. What was it then? Fear?
The castle did look haunted. The panes were dark a few glass windows shattered. Stones making up the exterior of “2” were cracked and old: vines crept up both curves of “0”. The bricks on “1” were less aged, tainted with red and copper.
A gong sounded, so softly I barely noticed the sound at first, increasing in volume until the sound rattled my bones. Where could the sound be coming from? My limbs shook, my breathing abruptly ended, and I leaned on a nearby tree for support.
The gong’s tone began to change, increasing in volume. It sounded so much like someone’s death bell my teeth knocked hard against each other. Like the funeral bells, except much louder. Except this New Year’s Eve was like no other.
I faltered across the few meters separating me from the huge wooden door leading into “2”.
The door flung itself open before me. My eyelids opened to their fullest extent, my mouth fell open at the blinding light shining out into the darkness from 2’s interior. A sign appeared, hanging from the wide iron door frame, black words spelling what would be a life-changing adventure.
Was this something I had to go through before I could greet 2018? It was New Year’s Eve, after all.
The gong, somewhere far away and yet sounding so close, sounded the eleventh hour.
My heartbeat raced.
My feet, propelled by an unseen force, shot across the stone doorstep and through the open door, then abruptly glued themselves onto the polished wooden floor. I could not move. Stunned, surprised by the pictures on the walls of the corridor I was in, I could only stare back at the smiling faces looking happily and—pityingly?—at me. My eyesight cleared. The picture frames held resemblances of familiar figures – these frames held….held…my family! Who could have taken these pictures and placed them here without my consent? These snapshots were of the most intimate and joyous moments I’d shared with my family in 2017. Then there were some not-so-private, but still as precious. The winter skiing trips. The fall trail hikes. The dive in the grotto on a summer vacation. Finding the first apple on our apple tree.
I pushed myself forward, wandering through corridor after corridor of pictures. Still grinning, dancing, and jumping, my sisters, brothers, and parents urged me to join them, alive on photo paper. I shook my head sadly, as if they were real, standing right there-as if I was separated, far, far away from them, which was true enough. The colorful memories these pictures portrayed contrasted with the cold stones of the corridor.
I moved forward, remembering, reigniting the love I felt for my family and the world. And then—a staircase. Old and scarred with age, the oak wood stained with stains of the past.
I took the first step. The wood creaked. I gasped in fright.
I ascended the staircase, careful not to touch the rusty guard-rails. The upper level was much smaller than the one I had just exited. I supposed I was reaching the upward curve of the “2”. Which would explain why the floor space decreased so dramatically on the second level. I thought no more of it.
There were even more pictures—ones I had taken throughout 2017: close-ups of flowers and pinecones, the drop at the tip of a leaf. The flower buds about to bloom. The glistening icicles. An innocent, spontaneous smile from my little brother. Peaceful and quiet, each photo illuminated by the soft light: so beautiful I wanted to cry.
At the end of the corridor was a door.
Thick black ink labeled the wooden entrance “0”.
I took one last glance of the picture-perfect hallway behind me and resolutely pushed on the door.
It would not budge. Was something behind it, someone maybe?
The wind screamed and cried suddenly, tearing through the cracks and crevices that must have infiltrated the castle since the beginning of time. I halted, a shiver cascading down my back.
I pushed harder. The bottom of the door scraped the floor, torturing my ears.
I faced a dark, cold room. Something sinister gripped me, pulling me into the room, until I stood where I believed was the center of the room.
The door eased shut behind me, thudding soft and sickeningly.
I shivered, this time from fear and sadness. Why sadness?
As if in answer to my question, objects began to light up in the room: the first that caught my eye was a slip of wool, matted and dirty, and a picture of a ewe beside it. My ewe. The ewe that had been butchered in fall of 2017. The mama sheep that had stolen my heart in 2015, gave me her precious lambs, and loved me as much as her heart could love—and I’d lost her. Ended up as chops on a barbecue grill. I stared at the picture until tears overcame me, and I turned to wipe them away.
When I looked up, papers hung in front of me from the ceiling. Rejection slips. Red highlighted my failed attempts at publishing. And behind them: the unpublished stories I had slaved over, buried deep inside the garbage can. I had been too embarrassed to let anyone know what a complete failure I was. Who knew about them? Who brought them here to mock me?
I gritted my teeth to contain my anger.
A woman began to cry, weeping as if her heart was broken and could never be healed. I turned to the sound, hoping to see someone—anyone—who could tell me what this façade of my life, this illegal mega-collage of my life in 2017 was all about.
Instead, I faced a flat-screen TV, running the film of someone’s funeral march. It sounded, looked, felt familiar. The camera zoomed in on the corpse. My breath stopped in my throat, refusing to continue. It was the dead body of my dearest friend. Dead. The casket was lowered solemnly into the hole waiting to swallow it up. I saw myself kneeling, covering my face, the flower in my hands crushed with my grief.
The sobbing grew louder, more heartbroken.
I realized that the sound I heard was myself. Myself who was crying, weeping, myself the person who had lost a dear friend.
This was part of 2017 that I wanted to forget, undo, and reverse. Why was such a simple thing impossible! Why did she have to die??
Engulfed with pain, I looked upwards, as if supplicating heaven. I took a deep breath, tears dripping down my face. And froze.
A face stared back down at me. A boy’s face: handsome, dimpled, cleft-chinned. His eyes did not blink. The drop-dead gorgeous smile did not twitch. The head did not move.
The body, the head, the person was frozen, just like I was.
I recognized the strong jaw, the brown eyes that had so often mesmerized mine, claiming them for his own. I loved those eyes, that mouth: I loved that boy. He’d promised his undying love for me: but life told another story, and he’d moved on. He had gone away in the August of 2017, never to return. He simply left. Left my life, left a broken heart behind.
The harshest words in the relationship/dating dictionary. Breakup.
Had he changed his mind? Was he willing to renew the friendship, rekindle the love—to come back to me?
How did he find me here? In this place?
“Victor…” I breathed, hoping, praying that he could hear me through the window glass. I did not need to know why, only that he was here. With me.
He did not move. Was he dead? Did someone—
“Victor!!” I screamed, suddenly unable to bear the strain and unconscious fear that finally surfaced in my mind.
He instantly disappeared. The window showed nothing but a dark nothingness.
I became frantic, mad, overturning the table holding the wool and picture, wrenching the TV from its fixture on the wall and smashing it onto the ground.
The glass screen splintered into a million pieces. Some fell onto my shoes. I shook them off.
Something in the far wall glinted from the dim light illuminating the rejection slips.
A door handle.
I stepped gingerly around the flat screen, my eyes on the small sphere of bronze. My escape. My freedom from this torture chamber of haunting feelings, memories. Torture for my heart.
My hands slipped around the handle. A knife sliced my hand, my wrist, etching a white slit across the underside of my wrist. The thin white line turned pink. Searing pain. Then—a single drop of crimson blood dripped to the ground. My hand flew off the doorknob. My right hand pressed down on the unexpected wound. Memories flooded my mind: I was alone, sick, and broken. I hurt. My head hurt. My body hurt. My heart hurt. And nobody cared. I became depressed, thoughts swirling through the grief and loneliness until I cannot bear them anymore. I’d taken a small knife, the one I used to cut up sweet apples, and placed it on my wrists.
They called it an attempt at suicide: a decision, an effort to take one’s own life. I did not care what name the world gave it: I simply could not live anymore. And the only way out of life was… death.
That was my decision. I’d laid the sharp blade of the knife across my wrist, applied pressure, and pulled it across. I waited, the pain intense. I kept in the scream: I did not need to hear it. It would devastate me. No one else was here to hear it anyways.
The pain now stung as it did ten months ago. I leaned on the door with my shoulder.
It gave way immediately.
The door opened to a balcony—a glass-floored deck suspended in the air by thin wire rods dangling from the top of the inside of the “0”. And in front of me, separated by what seemed a deep, uncrossable chasm, was the other side, the sister curve completing my half of the “0” I was in.
The wind suddenly quieted, creating an eerie feeling of a theater preparing to perform, the audience unseen.
There was no way of escaping this now.
I was desperately afraid of heights. Never would I allow myself up to stand anywhere that was not 110% safe: but here I was.
I dared not look down, knowing I’d probably scream and faint into the darkness below me.
This was a fear I had developed in 2017, after I’d slipped from a cliff and broken my left shoulder. I could feel it throbbing now, recalled by memory.
Was this a test—to prove to myself that I could do this, to break the fear built into me during the past year?
Who knew me so well?
I pondered deeply, pausing in my steps. My reasoning had not gone beyond an unseen stalker before a light turned on, shining on a glass hanging-bridge in front of me, the connection between the two halves of the “0”. A wolf howled in the distance; bringing back to me vivid memories of predators attacking our family’s flock, the brothers and sisters of my ewe. That was the call the wolves gave when they’d tracked down their victim—their dinner.
I tried to keep from shivering. My hands were ice cold. The glass steps, strung together with spider silk, sparkled like ice. I narrowed my eyes, trembling, wondering how the glass could hold me up. I squinted even more. Nothing to hold onto? Not even the slenderest thread?
But step across I must. If I were to enter the New Year boldly, I had to defeat this fear of heights. I had to put the pain and sorrow of the past behind me, and take the first step of faith.
I reached out my right foot. And slowly lowered my weight onto the fragile glass.
It held. I exhaled.
I took another step. And another.
Halfway across, I looked back. Back at the closed door: the room that held the pain, loneliness, and anguish of 2017. The door of escape from the dark sorrow that inflicted pain when it opened. It was a past I could never erase: a past that, whatever I do, I could never undo or reverse.
I accepted the memories, felt them all over again, and let them all go.
I turned to face forward.
I reached the other side, the other glass balcony.
I had overcome my fear: I had burst out of a shell I’d built around myself. I felt elated, knowing I could put my past behind me and embrace the future, whatever it held, whenever it came.
Another closed door greeted me. What lay beyond? I pushed it open.
This one yielded quickly and smoothly.
The safe and spacious conference room felt freeing and wonderful after the dreadful ordeal I’d just experienced. The lights were bright, shining on… I gasped, then broke into peals of ringing laughter. An unbelievably huge weight scale dominated the center of the room. I giggled with glee as I saw the numbers displayed—100 lbs. My dream weight. The goal I’d set in 2017, to break out of my obesity cycle and into thriving, good health.
Looks like I made it, I mused, smiling and walking around to inspect other items encased in glass cages around the scale. So much like a museum—showcasing the resolutions and dreams I’d written down for 2017! There was my finished novel, first in a promising series, wonderfully bound, the front cover just perfect and the title: I was breathless. Did I really write that! It would have been wonderful if I… The book bore my name. My hand flew to my mouth in disbelief.
I moved to the next exhibit. A certificate of a nutrition specialist—with my name. I could not believe it! I can finally pursue my life-long dream of helping others to better health! I’ve waited so long, worked hard all year, and finally… it was mine!
The third cage held the twin lambs my ewe had given birth to in spring of 2017. They were unbelievably cute—and they were mine. Mine to hold, to feed, to caress and shower with love. They tried to nuzzle me through the glass enclosure. I chuckled, touched by their affection.
I was just stepping toward the fourth item when the lights went out and a spotlight shone on a door: painted white, with a dark red “1” that reached from the top of the door to the floor.
It looked too much like blood.
It couldn’t get much worse than what I’ve just gone through.
I pulled on the handle, yanked the door open. I had nothing to lose. All my memories had been revealed. There was no more of me to torture.
The door opened into a small, dim room. With no furniture, no decorations, no knife-armed door-knobs. I let the door shut itself behind me, hugging my arms around myself.
The room began to move. Down, down, down.
I slipped, caught by surprise, and gripped the walls of the disguised elevator. I held on until I got used to the motion, and then: the trip was over. The elevator stopped, and the wall I was holding onto slipped away into a slit in the wall of what opened up to be a softly-lit, marble-floored corridor. My breath caught: it was gorgeous. The steamers and sceneries plastered onto the cream-colored walls were comforting and uplifting. Sunsets beside the lake: sunrises over smooth, rolling hills: the entrance to a forest trail: a rainbow over glistening fields. Scattered through the pictures were words like Love, Joy, Peace, and Happiness. The perfect words to begin a New Year with.
That was what this place had been trying to remind me of this place, this castle that held my memories, which held my 2017. I needed the reminder that the infinites–Joy, Love, and Peace–still existed. Through all the chaos of the world, the present, the past, I knew that this was a part of me: that I would not be complete without the year 2017. A past filled with love, heartbreak, sadness, fear—and redemption. Redemption from the past, from harbored fears and longings. Redemption from the despair and depression that had driven me to the brink of suicide in late 2017.
At that moment, I knew that 2017 had changed me. Once and forever. I had grown to cherish the beauty of the dew-drops, the love shared as a family. I now knew what it felt like to lose a dear pet, a dear friend: and can comfort those who suffer likewise in 2018. I knew what it was like to lose the will to live, what pushed people to the brink of despair, because I’d gone through the same experience–and survived. My accomplishments, the resolutions I had jotted into my yearly notebook and completed thrilled me with the knowledge that I could do something! I could do something great.
Losing my boyfriend has taught me, in ways I could not explain, that I could lay down my own brokenness, my poor cracked heart, and start over, refreshed and re-energized. After all, love never ends.
The gong sounded again, but instead of the funeral-bell drone was the happy, joyous tinkling and ringing of celebratory bells: much like the ones I used to ring in normal New Year celebration. I began my forward movement down the refreshing, wonderful corridor.
My steps slowed, my heart quickening from the sudden sound.
Something crashed to the ground in front of me. Something huge.
Metal scraped on metal, the collision ringing in the quietness of the night, the quietness of the corridor.
I could see a door in front of me…again. It must be the last, I thought.
Glass splintered outside, somewhere beyond that door.
A hundred bricks smashed to the ground, shaking the floor of the corridor.
The sounds were getting louder. The gongs were getting merrier.
It sounded like a fight between the old and the new: like a sword fight between kings of old.
The number sign on the door before me was strange: it looked like half an eight on top of half a seven.
A seven. 7.
I just passed through 2, 0, and 1. Now 7.
The eight moved down a little, pushing the seven downwards into oblivion, in rhythm to the…
I was almost close enough to touch the door. So close…
The seven was almost all gone: just two inches of its curvy vertical line and the top horizontal rectangle left.
The once-new year was dying, pushed to death by the new. Forced into the past.
The demolition sounds increased. The eight lowered itself one more inch.
One inch left.
There was a huge crash behind the door: gleeful, magnificent, final. The eight stamped out the seven, once for all. The “8” was here to stay.
Number eight. Year 2018.
I touched the doorknob, the door. The door marked “8”. The door to a new world. New dreams, new friends. New experiences, new heartbreaks.
A New Year. And all that it holds.
I opened the door: the final door.
And then I woke up.
It was 2018.