I'd like to introduce my first guest, C.G. Ayling! He was gracious enough to step up to my fantastical writing challenge, and the short story you are about to read, is quite remarkable! Enjoy, everyone, and check in soon for his interesting interview.
Your writing challenge is to write a short story, less than 2000 words about a large stone door that appeared in your backyard one night!
A Doorway, of Stone - by C.G.Ayling
I can’t recall why I looked out the kitchen window, just that I did. A single glance, or was it a wind’s whisper which cost me my mortal life…? I really can’t recall.
That story began, or perhaps I should say ended, with a puzzled frown as the full moon’s brilliant light drew my bored eye. Fast moving, irregular shapes flitted across the backyard, the shadows of clouds driven before a brisk, murmuring wind. A startled, wide-eyed blink as my eyes watched a shadow’s shifting form sprint across the lawn toward me. I stepped backwards so fast a splash of coke spilled from the can I’d just popped open.
Coke… the memory’s name conjured a gush of saliva.
Yes, they’re coming back now – memories long forgotten, tearing aside the cobwebs of a thousand deaths...
After my initial fright, bravado goaded me to venture outside. Was I still a child – that imagination could transform simple lunar shadows into monsters? Was I a fool, that I thought a full moon’s shadows could be anything else? How little I knew.
Hours of solitude, hunched over a computer, had left me thirsty, blurry eyed, and cramped. I could use a walk in the fresh air – nothing like stepping outdoors in a gated community to prove your bravery.
Moon, do your damnedest – I won’t be cowed by your conjured shadows!
A breath and a gulp of coke, followed by another gush of saliva at coke’s remembered taste.
Putting the can down, I stepped outside to look up at the biggest moon I’d ever seen. It was enormous, with light so bright it seemed blue. As anticipated hundreds of small, irregularly shaped clouds drifted toward me across a starlit sky. For a minute I gazed upward, barely breathing as my jaded eyes took in a sight more splendid than any computer graphic. As a particularly dense shadow approached, I lowered my eyes to the empty yard and watched it take life and charge toward me.
I smiled, then froze. In its wake, a new shadow formed, even-sided and square – yet there was nothing there! Frantic eyes leapt to the moon – no clouds between her and me. Reluctant eyes dropped, anticipating another trick of lunar light.
No such luck.
An even sided, oblong shadow lay hunkered on the lawn. Simple words, for a simple phenomenon – somehow rendered frightening by my subconscious. Shaking my head and blinking my eyes did nothing – it remained stationary, and so solid that for an instant I managed to convince myself it must be a freshly dug hole. During the last condominium association meeting there had been talk of a new swimming pool – but why would they place it on my lawn, behind my unit, instead of in the central, shared community area?
Face flushing in embarrassment at my overzealous imagination, I muttered, “Too many videos… jumping at shadows.” My words leant me false courage. With a snort of bravado, I stepped onto the lawn and strode toward the shape. It became more menacing with my approach – each step slower than the last, as my mind struggled to explain the inexplicable. A furtive glance at the moon revealed a sky now ominously clear of clouds.
About ten paces away, unwilling legs refusing to carry me closer, I stopped. A mistake – the rapid thudding of my heartbeat couldn’t be dismissed as echoes of my footsteps on the soft lawn. Squinting, I leant forward and peered into the shadow, “It’s got to be a hole for the new swimming pool… idiot contractors probably thought this was the central area.”
A firm nod leant me conviction I lacked. Murmuring, “Get a grip…” I took single step forward and stopped – once more unable to move. I glared into the darkness, wondering how I could have been so stupid as to not bring a flashlight with me. As I contemplated my foolishness, I noticed a minute movement on the ground – almost imperceptibly, the darkness moved toward me. It had to be a shadow, but a shadow cast by what? My eye traced a straight line from the moving edge up to the moon, which rode through the heavens with majestic ease.
A few hesitant steps carried me to the very edge of the impenetrable black. With the toe of my left shoe less than an inch from it, I glared down – pursed lips and narrowed eyes daring it to touch me. A few seconds gliding motion, and it did. Though my flesh crawled, I refused to jump back.
I watched, and felt the darkness creep over my foot.
A cold, tangible thing that served to convince me I dreamt – when were shadows truly frigid? Granted comforting courage by this thought, I stepped into the shade and heard the crunching of frozen grass beneath my shoes. My legs protested as bitter cold swept over them in perfect synchronization with the shadow. It felt like stepping into a river in the middle of winter – unbearably cold, even in a dream.
Shivering – no, shaking from the bitter ice, I stepped backward out of the darkness before glancing down at my shoes, which I expected to find coated with ice. As the shadow’s cold clasp released me, warm blood flooded my frozen feet, tingling as if surging into limbs numb for long immobility.
Determined to make the most of the strangeness, I turned right, fixed my eyes straight ahead, and took six brisk steps – parallel to the shadows perfect edge. The last two strides took me beyond the darkness. After taking a deep breath through my nose, I turned to face the shadow and gasped as my jaw dropped. Only a small portion of the darkness remained visible – a sliver seen past a massive wall of stone, towering high. After blinking twice, and finding the wall still towering over me, I shook my head, turned, and backtracked six paces – the precise number of steps I had taken me to escape the shadow.
This time I turned slowly, eyes narrowing as I once again looked at nothing – from this side, the shadow had no source. More than that, there was no indication anything stood at the darkness edge – the bright moonlight let me see lawn beyond its boundary. No shimmer, no distortion – I’d have sworn on my grave there was simply nothing there.
A poor choice of words…
I retraced my six paces, slowly, head turned to the side to catch first sign of the towering wall. As I began the fifth pace, I froze – each eye considering two separate and irreconcilable images. My right beheld the solid stone, climbing high. My left – emptiness, and lawn.
I titled my head left.
At some point, the stones forming the wall simply vanished. No line, no edge, no depth – simply there… then not.
Slowly, I tilted my head toward the right. Where was nothingness, now was stone, perceived first with my right eye while my left denied, then jointly – both eyes tricked by this illusion.
Reaching forth a hand, to confirm the impossibility of solid stone that was not, I hesitated… then drew my hand back and instead took the two remaining steps to halt in the exact spot where this strange dream had already climaxed. Head shaking in mute denial, I turned at last – to stare again at solid stone.
It seemed so real…
Beneath the moon’s bright light, I noted the perfect fit of each stone to those above, beneath, and to each side. Nowhere was mortar, yet also no gaps to my narrowed gaze. Eyes scanning the solid seeming surface, I took several long paces to reach the midpoint of the wall. It was as wide as it stood tall – perhaps wider. Still two paces away, I stopped and turned to face it square.
I gaped in mute silence, heart beating fast. Eyes fully accustomed to the moon’s light, I stared for a long while, the absolute still broken only by the ragged, irregular thumping of my heart. My narrowed eyes noticed a huge doorway set into the wall’s middle.
How did I recognize it as a doorway? There was no handle, and no hinge, neither frame, nor recess. Yet somehow, I knew – within this wall, stood a door. The only purpose for the monstrous wall was holding this massive door.
Reconciled to the dream, I reached out, anticipating a bitter bite of cold. My fingertips barely touched the wall before I snatched them back. The texture felt gritty, as stone should, but warm – as though baked beneath a hot, noonday sun. Sheepish, I reached out and placed the palm of my right hand flat on the part of the wall I knew to be a doorway. It felt solid, utterly immovable beneath my hand. Exhaling abruptly through my nose, in semblance of a derisory snort, I pressed.
The doorway remained sealed, immovable beneath my puny, tentative pressure, “It’s just a dream…” I leant into the stone, placed my left palm alongside my right, set my feet into the lawn, and heaved against wall – certain I could not possibly move the enormous door. A few seconds of effort, and I relaxed, secure in the knowledge it would not budge.
Goaded by feelings of dream-induced inadequacy, I shifted a pace to the left and pressed again, this time with only my left hand upon the door’s left edge. The stone doorway swung open – soundless and smooth, on hinges unseen. Naturally, the instant I felt movement beneath my hand, I snatched it away, ready to flee before the nightmare taking shape.
Beyond the doorway lay only darkness, as deep as the pit I had earlier imagined. The stone door continued its smooth soundless passage, vanishing soundlessly behind the wall. It disappeared before I thought to note its thickness. With that question foremost in my mind, I leaned forward, taking care not to lean into the gap left by the door’s absence. Here, the stone had depth – closer to two feet than one.
Only in a dream could I hope to move such a massive weight…
Reassured by this thought, I stepped into the doorway, reaching out a hand hesitant in anticipation of the darkness’s biting cold. Discerning no discomfort my fingertips pressed on, into the shade. Emboldened, I let first my hand, then my forearm slide further in.
Without warning, a steely hand grabbed my wrist and jerked me bodily forward. Overbalanced, I stumbled, an unborn scream leaping up my fear-clenched throat. The sight of my mirror image jerking me inside the stone room startled me into silence.
Even as I staggered in, I stepped out, face grim. My voice came from the other me, “Eternity enough, for me. Better me, than I…”
Mind numb with shock, completely overbalanced by the unrelenting wrench on my wrist, I lurched past myself in ungainly effort to keep my feel. The iron grip on my wrist released, letting me fall face forward onto firm packed sand. Behind me came a whoosh, followed by a dull thud as shadow enveloped me. Though there was no need to turn and look, I couldn’t stop myself – the bright moonlight had vanished, leaving only dim darkness in its wake.
Rolling onto my back, I sat up, peered toward where the stone doorway stood, pinched my arm, and murmured, “Time to wake up…”
From somewhere behind me a low moan raised my hackles. In the instant it took me to leap to my feet and turn toward the sound, goose flesh covered my entire body.
This, was no dream.
Author’s note. My thanks to K.N.Lee, for challenging me to experiment with something outside my norm. Would you like to see where this particular tale might lead? I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and are tempted to taste other of my work. Message me on Twitter @CGAyling, or visit my website http://cgayling.com to find out more.