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Death's Backdoor

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Death’s Backdoor

 

 

Thomas staggered down the last steps of the Bone Stair and collapsed.“Get up,” He told himself. “Get up. Get up. GET UP.” There was little urgency to the words; they were merely a command given to an exhausted body. Groaning deeply, Thomas dug his fingers into a crack and pulled himself up, the act leaving deep lacerations in already scarred flesh. He sat there panting for a long second, and then lifted his head to gaze along the beach of cracked stone. It ran infinitely to his left and right, a vista interrupted only by the wide, sweeping bottoms of the countless Bone Stairs. They all looked the same: high, white steps of ageless bone framed by an inky balustrade that climbed up the sheer mountain face and vanished in the stagnant mists. Thomas looked forward, staring past the beach to where an ocean of black sand lay: one of the last great obstacles between him and Death’s backdoor.

Loose gravel scraped to his left as a skeletal woman lurched into view. She dropped to a seat beside Thomas and flicked her grimy blond hair back. “Thomas, that brat of yours is falling behind again.”

He sighed and rubbed his face with both hands, grinding their palms into his eyes. “He’s not my child, Cherise…”

She sneered. “Oh, but you brought him along, didn’t you? Your pet, your problem.” She looked over her shoulder and glared at the boy inching his way down the steps. “I can’t see why we don’t just ditch him; all he’s done is slow us down.What’s worse, even if we do escape Death, we’ll then have to feed and take care of the brat!”

“Let it rest, Cherise, the Maze is no place for anybody, much less a child.” He sagged against the stairs, fighting to keep his eyes open. The eternal, dull, aching exhaustion of Death weighed on him, dragging him toward oblivion.

Thomas forced his eyes open and sat up. He couldn’t fall asleep, not with his family waiting for him outside of Death.

The boy, Ethan, scooted down the last couple steps and stopped beside Cherise, his dull eyes sunken by famine. Cherise reared up and struck the boy, her slap echoing around the vast cavern. “Stupid brat, we’ve already wasted enough time because of you!”

Ethan scrambled back, one hand lifted to shield him from further assault. “Please, I’m tired, Mrs. Cher—“

“I don’t care if you’re tired or hungry; keep up or get left behind.” She moved to strike him again, but Thomas caught her arm.

“Leave him be, Cherise.” He forced his thin, shuddering legs to stand and shuffled over to the boy. “Come on, Ethan, we have to go.” He took the boy by his emaciated shoulders and drew him to his feet. “It’s dangerous to rest for long.”

Cherise scowled at him but followed as they crossed the rock beach. At its edge, they found a stone boat waiting with only a short, fossilized stick to serve as an oar. One by one, Thomas helped his companions over the boat’stall lip. “Don’t look at the sand, and don’t touch it.” He crawled in after them and shuffled to the prow. “It will trap you if you let it.” He lifted the heavy oar- everything felt heavier in Death- and pulled the boat forward.

Cherise shifted behind him, her slight movement causing the boat to rock, heedless of the sand that it pushed through. “I hope that map of yours isn’t lying to us.”

He pulled again. “It hasn’t misled us yet.” The scrap of cloth hardly qualified as a map, it was just a list of names and warnings: after the Bone Stairs is the Grieving Sea where you will find a boat to carry you. Be careful of the Sand.

Something scraped the boat’s side, the resulting lurch almost spilling Cherise into the sea and wrenching Thomas’s gaze to where the head of a gray statute sprouted from the sea. He cursed and drew back, casting his gaze further out to where a forest of statues, cracked columns and crumbling buildings protruded from the sand, all of them made from the same gray stone.

Thomas shivered at the sight and shoved off the gray statue, trying to ignore just how much its face resembled his wife’s.Unbidden, memories of his life rose within his mind. His son and daughter would be several years older now, maybe old enough to start school. His wife wouldn’t have changed at all. She would still be small and beautiful and far too kind for her own good. A giggle broke his reverie, startling him just in time to catch the oar sliding from his grasp.

He spun around, swiping at the encircling mist with his stick. Ethan sat in the middle of the boat giggling to himself as he waved at someone or something out in the mist. Cherise stood on the port side with one hand clutching the rim and the other reaching into the fog.

Thomas lunged across the boat and yanked Cherise from the side. “Don’t listen to it! You have to wake up.”

She snarled and struck at him. He reeled back, maintaining his grip on her even as he desperately kicked at Ethan to disrupt the boy’s fixation. “Wake up! They’re not real!” He threw the snarling woman to the floor and rushed over to help the toppled boy.

“Thomas?”

At the sound of her voice, his wife’s voice, Thomas stopped.

“What are you doing here, Thomas?”

He shuddered and looked away from the voice, but she resided in that direction as well, hanging from one of the statues. He cowered down, covering his ears and closing his eyes.

“Thomas, why won’t you look at me? I’m right here. Thomas?”

He cowered lower. ‘They’re not real. It’s just an illusion.’

A shriek split through the mists. “Papa! Help me.” Thomas lurched to his feet, searching the mists with frantic turns of his head. He saw his son dangling from the branch of a fossilized tree, his little feet flailing about as he tried to pull himself back up.

“Hunter!” Thomas screamed and jumped toward the edge of the boat.

A hand caught his leg though, stopping him from leaping over the edge. He spun around, preparing to kick off whoever held him and saw Ethan. “Don’t go, Mr. Thomas, they’re not real.” Ethan stared up at him with huge, terrified eyes.

“Papaaaaaa!”

Thomas sunk to the floor of the boat, weeping as the gut-wrenching cry sounded without respite. Ethan shook him. “Please, Mr. Thomas, you have to move us. I can’t use the oar.”

Thomas bit his tongue, spilling blood into his mouth and shocking himself back to reality. He staggered over to the prow, biting down on his tongue every time a cry sounded, and stabbed the oar into the sand. He pulled, dragging them forward foot by foot as the mists whispered. He couldn’t look back to check on either Cherise or Ethan, he needed all of his concentration just to ignore the cries of his family.

Thomas did not know how long he rowed, for there was no time in Death. He simply rowed until the mists parted, and the boat scraped onto the opposite shore. Their arrival jarred him from his stupor, prompting him to truly look at his surroundings again. He stumbled out of the boat and collapsed on the onyx beach where the cries of his family faded into the silence of Death.

He heard a set of footsteps behind him followed by the whisper of cloth as Ethan settled beside him. He listened, waiting for the second set of footsteps, but nothing came. He turned and looked back to where the mist swirled lazily around the boat: Cherise was gone.

Thomas slumped forward with a soft profanity and then pushed himself to his feet. He bent to shake Ethan by the shoulder. “Come on, let’s go. We’re almost there.” He looked across the onyx beach to a wall of sheer, white stone that soared beyond the curtaining mists. An infinite series of vast, red doorways lined its base offering admittance into the passage beyond. There were no doors to block their advance, only a web of black chains fashioned into the shape of skulls.

Thomas pulled Ethan to his feet and together they shuffled forward; the final warning filling Thomas’s thoughts: After the Grieving Sea, you will find the Nine Doors. The hallways and doors themselves offer no peril, but they house the Watchers and the Seekers, the final guardians between Death and Life. Do not wake them.

Thomas and Ethan slipped through the chains into the dark hallway beyond. The only light came from a series of flickering, spectral threads that hung close to the ceiling. Their pale illumination barely reached the floor and left many of the images painted in obscurity. The few Thomas could see depicted a parade of shuffling souls marching up the hallway. He followed the stream of these images deeper into the corridor.

They crept along the hallway, cowering in the stretches of darkness and hastening as much as they could in the patches of light. Eventually, they reached the second doorway.

Thomas halted at the entrance and glanced in. The circular room soared past his sight and existed in a state of pale blue radiance despite having no discernible source of illumination. Beds, couches and cushioned chairs filled the available space; their cushions and pillows all faded from time but still inviting him inward.The Watcher surveyed it all from high above: a creature fashioned of stone and dressed in the same red cloth as the beds. It moved without a sound, walking through the air as if it were solid. Its head turned left and right beneath its frayed cap and constantly ducked down to adjust the blanket of a sleeping soul with its beak. The Seekers hung from its robes, a menagerie of wooden monkeys with bandaged eyes. They chattered softly to one another but moved only when the Watcher shifted them in its silent vigil.

Thomas drew back with a despairing exhale. “We have to go back, Ethan, the Watcher is awake.”

Peeking through the door himself, Ethan shook his head. “No, it still sleeps. The Seekers are awake, but they can only act on the Watcher’s bidding.”

Thomas peeked out the doorway again and quickly realized that the Watcher’s eyes were closed. He drew back. “All right, let’s go but don’t make a sound.” Ethan nodded, and together they sprinted into the room. The Watcher stayed as it was, making no movement toward them as they dashed under it.Thomas reached the opposite door with a strangled sob of relief and slumped against the wall. Ethan collapsed beside him a moment later.The Watcher continued moving from bed to bed, checking on the souls it had captured.

Shaking himself, Thomas pushed his fear aside, took Ethan by the arm and continued forward.The third doorway led to a room where the walls and ceiling were comprised entirely of water and filled with glass portraits that depicted captured souls.The Watcher swam through these walls, its many hands forever adding new and more intricate layers to the portraits. Its Seekers trailed after it like a cape, clinging to one another with bony hands while their spectral bodies fluttered and changed, warping without rhythm, purpose or unity.

Thomas and Ethan again managed to cross it without waking the Watcher.

The next hallway lasted only a couple hundred steps before it ended at the fourth doorway.Here Thomas stopped short of the entrance, frightened by the ominous red glow it exuded. Motioning for Ethan to hang back, he inched forward and glanced in. A network of glowing crimson strings crisscrossed the room, their radiance providing the only available light. The Watcher hung in the middle of her web suspended over a dark well by the strands she had woven around her body. Her lustrous dark hair streamed down to encircle the well, and the ghostly souls she imprisoned there. Her Seekers hung from the strands of her web in small (water-like) droplets each a perfect miniaturized copy of their mistress, from her crimson gown to her soft, lovely face.

Thomas waved Ethan forward, and together they inched into the room, contorting themselves around the crimson strands and breathing only when their lungs burned for air. Thomas led, judging every possible route and choosing those with the largest gaps between strings. He had to help Ethan through holes on two occasions, and each time he thanked Luck that the Watcher never shifted in her slumber. Finally, he reached the end and stumbled through the doorway.

He stood there for a long moment, and then slowly turned when Ethan failed to appear beside him. The boy stood on the opposite side of the final strand. He stared behind himself, eyes fixed on where a piece of his shirt had caught one of the strings.

Thomas lurched forward with a desperate whisper, “Don’t move!”

Ethan looked back at him with wide eyes. “P…Please, Mr. Thomas.”

Thomas desperately motioned for him to quiet down and glanced at the Watcher. She did not move. He released a shuddering breath and inched forward, reaching a hand through the final web toward Ethan. “Don’t move, don’t-“

Ethan sobbed a soft, little whimper of fear. Thomas stopped, watching in horror. A single shudder passed through the web, bouncing from string to string on its way to the Watcher.

Ethan looked at him. “Please…”

Thomas stepped back shaking his head. “I’m sorry, Ethan, I can’t.”

The Watcher’s eyes snapped open, huge, fathomless and black. Thomas turned and fled as Ethan screamed.

He ran. None of the Watchers woke with his passage, and the rooms passed one by one. Finally, he reached the last door and came to a gradual stop. The Watcher slumbered there in a room full of oily, liquid darkness; its hands wrapped around three small souls. Thomas slipped into the room and swam along the floor. The Seekers floated around him in an array of small lights that failed to illuminate the dark.

Thomas again crossed the room without waking the Watcher. On the opposite side, he found a ledge and a smallish door built from a variety of bronze gears. His heart dropped. The door looked loud.

He glanced behind himself at the Watcher, noting it’s long, many-jointed fingers set at the end of an equally long, bony arm. Back and forth he glanced between the door and the Watcher. Ultimately he shrugged with a silent humorless laugh. There was nowhere else to go; so he reached through the floating Seekers and turned the door’s large, wheel-like handle. Silence, no sound arose despite the wheel turning in his hand. Then the lock clicked open. It was a harmless sound, an inconsequential sound, but it exploded through the room.

Thomas felt the creature’s eyes open behind him and he heaved on the door. The Watcher stirred, uncoiling itself and illuminating the room with a baleful, pale radiance. Thomas felt the Watcher’s eyes settle upon his back and yanked on the door, heaving with all of his flimsy bodyweight. The room was large, and the creature floated at the far side of it; but the moment its gaze settled upon him, Thomas felt two bony fingers delicately pinching the back of his shirt. His clothing tightened, and he began to lift upward, but the sharp bones tore through the ratty fabric of his tunic and he dropped to the ground.

He didn’t know where they came from, but strength and speed flooded his limbs, allowing him to grip the door handle once again. He pulled on the wheel, releasing a sobbing roar that drowned every other sound. The door cracked another inch and light burst through the darkness, enveloping Thomas as he fell forward into unconsciousness.

Thomas woke to starlight. At first, he thought his eyes deceived him, but then a chill breeze swept over him, and he jerked upright. Spirits couldn’t feel cold in Death. Another chill wind swept around him, cutting through his clothing without reserve.It didn’t matter; the stars smiled down at him, and he welcomed any sensation that wasn’t pain.

Thomas struggled to his feet and shambled toward a nearby edge. There he paused, weeping and looking down at a sprawling city: the Station. It glowed a warm yellow with artificial lights and bustled with nocturnal energy.

After a long while of staring down, he turned to look back. A single iron door met his gaze. Its surface depicted a skull to signify where it led. Thomas slowly stepped up to the door and laid his hand on it. He bowed his head. “I’m sorry, Ethan.There was nothing I could do, and I have to return to my family.”

“That’s too bad.”

Thomas spun about at the deep, rumbling voice. A bloated, muscular man ascended the final step with a grin. He dressed in a burgundy waistcoat and a dark trench coat. His tombstone teeth glittered perfectly white in the starlight, and his gigantic hands spread in a motion of welcome.Every action was accompanied by the slithering of chains, for they hung from his person and draped the ground behind him.

Thomas drew back, pressing against the door as the chairs circled around him. “Wh… Who are you?”

The giant man grinned and stomped forward. “There’s no point in you knowing that, it won’t save you.”

The man’s hunger swamped Thomas, and he screamed without a thought. He tried to run, but the chains swelled up around him and closed tight. Thomas thrashed and screamed for help, but no one came as the man closed in.

________________

 

Leaning his shoulder against the Door into Death, Mahria Tsurn chomped contentedly on the last of the escaped soul’s bones. The soul’s clothing lay in a discarded pile to the side along with a couple of bone fragments and the cloth map.

The door creaked open beside him and a small, plump boy stepped out. Ethan glanced at Thomas’s remains and then focused his attention on Mahria Tsurn. “So you got him.”

Mahria snapped the femur in his teeth and proceeded to munch. “Yes, but I’m still hungry.” Chain’s slithered, picking up the discarded map and flicking it toward the boy. “Go find me another.”

Ethan nodded and slipped back into Death.

 

Other books by Keegan and Tristen Kozinski

The Darkness that Slept

Nemesis

A Crime of Honor

 

Coming soon…

The City of Locked Doors

keeganandtristenkozinski.com

Live Long, Laugh Longer


Death's Backdoor

Thomas died young, leaving behind a cherished but poor family. Now, his soul is wandering the vast realms of Death in pursuit of a distant hope. There is a way to escape Death and return to the living, but it is perilous and a single misstep would lead to the eradication of his essence. Nonetheless, Thomas must return to his loved ones with only the help of a child's soul and that of a bitter woman

  • Author: Keegan & Tristen Kozinski
  • Published: 2017-06-15 23:50:15
  • Words: 3099
Death's Backdoor Death's Backdoor