A Door to the Past

After David left, Julia turned back to talk to Jason’s apparition, but it, too, had gone. She dropped into a chair and stared at nothing in particular. She really had nothing to do, at least nothing she wanted to do.

Surprising her, Jason’s cat jumped into her lap. She hadn’t seen it since Jason’s death; in fact, she hadn’t even been certain that it was still around until just now. As far as she knew, Jason had never given it a name. It jumped back to the floor and crawled under the chair. Julia stood up to go find some food for it.

Before she even took a step, something hit her foot. The cat had knocked a green toy into her. She bent down to pick up, not a toy, but a green crystal. It radiated power, but it didn’t look like the power storage crystals Jason normally created. Indeed, she had never seen him make or use anything like this. Getting down on her hands and knees, she looked under the chair to see if there was anything else under it that might be a clue to what the crystal was for.

The only thing she saw was the cat, who meowed at her and walked away. Julia sat back onto her legs and examined the crystal more closely. There was power, but it was already bound up in some purpose; it wasn’t the freely available power that could be found in Jason’s usual crystals. Without more information, there was no way of knowing what it was for. The cat began meowing repeatedly, so she walked over to where it was sitting, next to a small cabinet. Inside the cabinet was a bag of cat food. She found a bowl and set it down on the floor.

While the cat ate, she continued to turn the crystal over in her hand. It stubbornly refused to give up its secrets. Casting her gaze around the room, she saw nothing remarkable, nothing incomplete or out of place. Her eyes finally settled on the door to Jason’s back rooms. She had avoided going back into the other parts of his personal space. Even though he was gone, it felt wrong, as if she would be prying. The door was now ajar. The cat must have opened it and gotten out. That was a good thing, else it might have starved. 

Now that the door was open, it felt like a sign for her to finally enter. After all, his belongings needed to be dealt with, especially if anything else was alive back there. Clutching the crystal tightly, Julia steeled herself and walked into the next room.

To someone who didn’t know Jason well, the room would have looked cluttered and disorganized, as thought someone had been in the middle of three projects and left suddenly. She knew better. He had probably been in the middle of at least six projects. Chaos was his order, and he understood it better than anyone else she knew. She couldn’t always follow how his mind worked, but there was no denying that he saw patterns no one else could.

Three more doors led away from this room. One would go to his personal chambers. Another went to a more traditional lab space. And the third . . . confused her. She had made these quarters according to his instructions. There should only be two doors besides the one she had come through. Had he added a room without telling her?

Opening this extra door revealed nothing but a blank wall. There was no doubt that Jason was odd, to say the least, but he always had a reason for everything he did. So what was the point of a false door? She closed it and examined the side facing the rest of the room.

It appeared to be just a normal door; there was nothing odd about it at all. The door handle was made of glass and cut to look like a large gem. A little fancy, perhaps, but nothing extraordinary. Otherwise, it was a simple wooden door that led nowhere.

A meow startled her. The cat was standing next to her looking at the door, obviously expecting to be let through. She obliged the cat, but the wall was still there. It sat pawing at the wall, apparently confused. She closed the door again and went over it carefully. This time she noticed a notch in the handle. It looked like it belonged, so she hadn’t noticed it the first time. There was no other indentation or marking anywhere. She pulled out the green crystal and fitted it to the notch. Effortlessly, it snapped into place. This time, when she opened the door, she saw the inside of a familiar apartment. It was where Jason had been living when they had first met.

The cat did not hesitate to enter its old home. Why did Jason have a door to this place? Was there something important here? She couldn’t begin to guess the answers to her questions, but she was determined to find out. Carefully, she followed the cat through the door.

A Bad Feeling

The sidewalk was full of people walking to their afternoon destinations. Some were staring down at their phones; others looked straight ahead while managing to avoid eye contact with anyone. The bustle was typical for the time of day, and even surrounded by so many others, everyone kept to their own private worlds.

A young boy, no more than ten, wove his way through the crowd and tried, with only modest success, to avoid being jostled. As he reached the corner of the block and waited for the light to change, he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned around to see a middle-aged man, with a wild look in his eyes, bending down to talk to him.

“Excuse me, young man, can you tell me where Maxwell’s Cafe is? I seem to be turned around.”

The boy knew he wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers, but the man did not seem dangerous despite his looks. Pointing back the way he had come, he said, “Two blocks . . .” A truck roaring past drowned out his voice for a moment. “Two blocks that way. It’s on your right. There is a big blue neon sign.”

“Thank you.” The man straightened and began walking in the direction the boy had shown him.

Seeing that the light had changed, the boy crossed the street and continued on his way. 

*     *     *

“Why did you do that?” Julia asked Jason. “You know where Maxwell’s is.”

Jason looked back over his shoulder at the boy and smiled. “Did you notice the truck that went by?”

“There are a lot of trucks going by.”

“One went past when the boy was giving me directions.”

“Okay. Maybe I remember that.”

“It ran a red light. If he hadn’t stopped to give me directions, he would have been in the street. That truck would have run him over.”

“You knew about the truck?”

Jason chuckled. “No. I just noticed it go by when he was talking.”

“Then why . . .”

“I knew he was in danger. I just didn’t know the details until I saw the truck.”

“So you stopped him . . .”

“. . . to keep him out of danger. Yes. I just get these flashes, something is good or bad. The boy must have brushed me, and I picked up on his immediate fortune.”

Dumbfounded, Julia just looked at him.

He chuckled again. “Just something I’ve always had. Never details, just a sense of success or failure, good or bad.”

“Seems handy.”

Jason gave her an enigmatic smile.

“Wait a second. Why did that building fall on you back when we first met? Shouldn’t you have been able to sense that whatever you were doing was a bad idea?”

“But it wasn’t.”

“A building. Fell. On. You.”

“And as a result, I met you.”

“That counts as a success?”

Jason shrugged. “Good ideas work in mysterious ways.”

I Begin

All around there is darkness, no light anywhere and nothing beneath me. There is nothing to focus attention and nothing solid on which to find footing. I am falling. What waits at the bottom? Is there a bottom?

How much time has passed? How much time is left? I do not know the answer; we never do. Right now is when I am. The past is gone. The future is blank. What will I do right this moment?

I close my eyes. (Or were they already closed?) I listen to the air move past my ears, feel it touch my skin. I focus on my heartbeat, use it to steady myself. I am still falling, but more peacefully now.

I can’t ignore my situation, but I do not let it rule me. I am not the master, but neither am I the servant. What thoughts might I have, what worlds might I create as I plummet in the dark? I do not know; I will not know. Not until I think, not until I create. And so, in the darkness, I begin.

All of Eternity

It had been over a century since he had last seen another human being. Having been alive for so long, he doubted he even counted as a human being himself anymore. Maybe he never was.

He sat down with a cup of tea. It grew in the backyard of the house. Other people used to live here with him, but humans were now extinct. The last few years had been hard on the dwindling population. Staring the end of your kind in the face was an unenviable position. The only thing worse that he could imagine was staring at eternity alone.

On the table in front of him was an ancient handgun. It had sat in the same position seemingly forever, its layer of dust growing thicker by the year. It was stupid, he knew, but he had left it there to remind himself of the futility it represented. He had used it years ago, after the last person had died. The gun still worked, but the bullet didn’t kill him. It hadn’t even hurt him.

When others were around, he enjoyed his long life. There were always new things to discover, new people to meet. Then infertility became more and more a problem. Disease took its toll. Within just a couple hundred years humans went from the dominant animal on the planet to an endangered species. Now his life was nothing more than a burden.

After the gun failed, he tried other methods to escape his isolation. Knives didn’t cut his skin. Pills passed right through him. Suffocation didn’t even cause him to lose consciousness. The cold of the South Pole and the heat inside a volcano were merely irritating. He simply wouldn’t die.

After traveling everywhere, he finally settled down near the place he had grown up so long ago. Starvation and dehydration were nothing to him, but he managed to care for a small garden that provided food he ate out of habit. Days and years blurred, and he found himself sleeping more and more. At least that relief was not denied him.

He expected to go mad. Under the circumstances, who wouldn’t? Yet he was impervious even to mental illness. All that was left was to learn everything he could. Collecting books from libraries and anywhere else he could find them, he taught himself everything about science and philosophy. He began conducting his own experiments.

At first, it was merely something to do, but slowly, a purpose began to take shape. He began to study his own physiology as best as he could. Learning about himself grew into discovering the secret to his own death. He used every type of scanner humanity had developed, and even invented new ones. After a century of study, all his research merely confirmed his original observation: he was immune to death.

Once he accepted that, his mind began to change. It had to. If both insanity and death were out of his reach, there was no other choice. His thoughts turned outward, to the rest of the universe. In spite of all of humanity’s achievements, they had never discovered extra-terrestrial life. He realized that if he did nothing, he would be here when the sun destroyed the Earth and would spend the rest of eternity floating in the void. So he turned to rocketry.

Years of learning passed, and even more for building, experimenting, failing, and starting over. It didn’t matter how long it took; it was all he had. After countless crashes, the day came when he managed to launch and escape the atmosphere. He looked at the Earth as it quickly receded from him. There was no way to know where he was headed, but at least it was somewhere.