This story is a little more straightfowrward. The character here is an actual person, not the idea of a forest, so there’s that. Also, I swear I wrote this before watching Fringe. Again, if you have feedback of any kind, please leave a comment at the bottom of the page!
The boy was just like you or me. He grew up in a house where his parents loved him and he hated them. He went to school and learned some things and forgot others. He hung out with friends and liked to spend time alone. He had a few girlfriends but none of them would be his wife. He had a dog that, like all dogs, lived only to make the boy’s life better. And he did a good job of it. The boy went to college and moved out of his parents’ house, as you do. He stayed up for hours on end to discuss religion and movies and girls. He had a few more girlfriends and some one night stands but, again, none of them would be his wife. He graduated and found an office job shortly afterwards. He performed admirably but would never set the business world ablaze. He dated a few more girls and finally began to see one for a longer time. The girl, too, was just like you or me.
The boy and the girl had been dating for a long time. They went to plays and read the same books. They hung out with friends and liked to spend time alone together. They had a dog who lived only to make their lives better. And he did a good job of it. They had moved in with each other, as you do. They went to bed at the same time and were content. They would get married soon and start a family. They grew older and grew together and became the man and the woman.
One day, the man took the dog for a walk. The woman liked to walk around the neighborhood and the boy liked to walk in the woods behind their small house. The man and his dog walked these woods often and they both felt like they knew all of its secrets. The rabbit warrens, the little streams that bubble into other streams that flow into others, the best places to stop and be still for a minute. It was a place they could both go to and think and explore and be with each other, separate from everybody else. This day, though, there was something new in the woods. A few minutes into their journey the dog sniffed at a bit of thread mostly hidden under some leaves. The man noticed the dog’s new interest and crouched down beside it to investigate with his friend. The bit of thread was red and frayed at one end. The other end disappeared among the leaves and seemed to go on for quite a ways. The man pulled on the rope and found a bit of give before it pulled taut and began to disturb the leaves that hid the rest of its length. He decided to follow it.
The man and his dog followed the string for a while and a while until they came to a strange stand of trees. The trees were arranged in a line instead of the random layout of the rest of the forest and each was about a yard away from the one before it. The string came to an end at the first tree, disappearing into the base of the tree where the roots met the ground like a woven umbilical. The man let the string drop and went to examine the tree closer. As he approached it he found that there was a door faintly carved into the wide trunk. The door had a curved top, though the groove that distinguished it from the rest of the tree was only a fraction of an inch deep, and in the middle, at eye level, there was a peephole. The man went to put his eye up to the peephole when his dog barked at him. He turned to the dog and asked him what was the matter. The dog whined and turned his head back towards the direction of their house. It was far away now and neither could see it through the surrounding forest. The man told the dog that they would just be here for a moment, they couldn’t leave now. Not when there was such a strange group of trees waiting to be investigated. The dog whined again but sat down dutifully, waiting.
The man approached the first tree again and looked into the peephole. It was the same kind of peephole you would see in most hotels, except the ring connecting it to the tree was made out of stone instead of metal and the glass seemed more like the clearest ice instead of glass. When the man looked through the hole he saw a living room just like the one in his small house. It had the same chair, the same sofa, the same TV. The same books on the shelves and the same lights. In the chair, the copy of his favorite reading chair, there was a man sitting and reading a book. It was the same book he was reading. This copy-man was wearing the same clothes as the man. But he wasn’t an exact copy. This copy-man had blond hair instead of the brown hair the man had. The man’s father had blond hair and his mother brown. He had wondered, once or twice, what he would look like had he inherited his father’s hair instead of his mother’s. This peephole in a door in a tree in the woods showed him. It was interesting but not drastic. As he continued to look a woman entered the view. She was a copy of the woman he was married to. The copy-woman didn’t have different color hair or different anything. She was wearing the same clothes and even the same lipstick that the man’s woman put on earlier that day. The copy-woman sat on the couch with her book and began reading. Between the couch and the chair a copy-dog looked up from its nap for a second to see what the copy-woman was doing, then put his head back down to sleep.
The man stepped back from the peephole, his head reeling from such a strange sight. Everything was the same, the exact same, except for the not-quite-copy man. This other-man had blond hair but was otherwise exactly the same as the man in the woods. The man crouched down next to his dog and asked it what it thought of the strange view through the door. The dog tilted its head, as dogs do, then whimpered and looked back towards their house again. The man patted its head and told him they’d go back soon, but they had to see what the next tree was like. Would it show the same scene again? Would it be something completely different? And what of all the other trees? The line stretched on forever, each tree equally spaced and equally made. The man walked up to the next tree and the dog followed. They saw that this tree had a door, the same door, carved into its sizeable trunk and a peephole, the same peephole, stuck in the middle of the door. The man stepped closer and peered into the cold, clear hole.
This peephole gave the man a shock. Everything was different, except the basic outline of the room it viewed. The room was still the same size but the decorations were completely different. The chair was not a chair but a beanbag and the couch a loveseat. They were in different positions, too. The walls held different decorations, rock band posters instead of pleasant but boring artwork. The lights held bright colored bulbs and the room felt much more alive. Reclined in the loveseat was a man. This man was skinnier than the man in the woods. His hair the same color but disheveled. He wore a ratty old concert-T instead of the plain T-shirt the man in the woods wore and holey jeans instead of khaki pants. The man in the woods did see some resemblance in this other-man, though. His facial features were similar, if more gaunt, and they seemed to be roughly the same height. When the other-woman came into the frame the man in the woods saw that she was not even remotely similar to his wife. This other-woman looked completely different and even walked differently. She walked up to the computer in the corner of the room and turned on music before plunking down in the beanbag chair. The man in the woods could hear the music as if the door in the tree was thick cardboard, it was muffled but barely. The music was nothing that the man in the woods had ever heard before but both the other-man and the other-woman were dancing in their seats. As the song went on they got more and more animated. The man in the woods, too, began to tap his toe. He cautiously stepped back to see if the sound would stop if he moved away from the peephole and he found that he could move about a foot away from the door before the music disappeared. When he stepped back in the music began again. He saw, too, that a large knot had appeared in the door right where a doorknob would be. He grabbed the knot and pushed the door moved a bit but stopped after less than an inch. He tried turning the knot and found it moved relatively easily. He pushed again and the door opened all the way. Neither the other-man nor the other-woman noticed him standing in the now open doorway.
He went to take a step into the room but as he put his foot down the room spun. The man closed his eyes so he wouldn’t throw up and when he felt the motion stop he opened his eyes again. He saw the ceiling of the same room, as if he’d fell into the loveseat the other-man was lying on. But that wasn’t possible. The other-man was nowhere in sight. The man looked around to find him when he noticed that he was wearing the same ratty concert-T that the other-man was wearing. His khaki’s had changed into ratty jeans. He noticed he could see long, stringy hair in his periphery. He realized what happened. He hadn’t landed on top of the other-man; he had become the other-man. Now that he was the other-man he realized that this other-man was actually him. He had the same parent, though they treated this other-man differently as a child. He went to the same school, though he was friends with different people. And he even married a person that the man from the woods knew from college, if only from seeing her around campus. This other version of himself had made a lot of different decisions and grew up in an entirely different way. Sure, some things remained the same, he and his other-wife bought the same house as the man from the woods did with his wife and they also had a dog but everything else had changed. The man was in shock. His other-wife looked at him and asked him if anything was wrong, since he had stopped dancing. The man said no, but his other-wife got up and turned off the music. She came over and hugged him and the man was confused. He knew that he didn’t have any connection with this woman but he also knew all the things that led up to this moment for his other-self. There was simultaneously nothing and everything between them. It was disconcerting.
He had to figure out a way to get back to the wood of many doors. He thought of the peephole, made a clear picture of it in his mind. He pulled his head back and was shocked again to find himself back in the quite woods. This was the first time that he noticed there were no birds or wind in that strange section of the forest. The only sound came from his stepping on the dead leaves, the new spring plants not yet showing through the coat of old sheddings from the previous fall. He looked around for his dog but couldn’t find it anywhere. He figured it went back to their house, which was fine because it gave him more time to investigate these woods. He looked back at the tree he just pulled himself out of and found that the door was gone. So was the peephole and the knot-knob. It was just a tree now. He went back to the first tree to see if that peephole was still there. It wasn’t. He went to the third tree in the line and that one did have a rock and ice peephole. He looked inside.
He saw nothing. Blackness. Blacker than that, even. It was a lack. He got a chill, even though there was no wind or movement of any kind in these woods. He pulled back again and wondered if he should move on or go back to his house. This tree had given him a scare and it wasn’t going to be easy to shake it. Maybe he should just come back later in the week. He could bring his wife and they could explore these strange trees together. Yes, that’s what he would do. Just after he looks in the next tree. Something to cleanse the palate after the oddly terrifying emptiness of the last tree.
He walked up to the fourth tree in the line. It was the same as all the others. He looked into the peephole and found another room. He let out a sigh of relief, not knowing that he had been holding his breath. He observed the room. It was empty. There were scuff marks on the hardwood from where things had been once and where things will be again. He heard a truck driving away and he, too, stepped away. While that door wasn’t as scary as the black emptiness of the previous tree it wasn’t a happy view. It filled him with melancholy and he reasoned that he couldn’t go back and tell his wife about such a sad place. He needed something bright and exciting to tell her. He needed something that would get her attention. So he moved on to the fifth tree.
When he looked in the fifth peephole he saw something quite disconcerting. It was another eye, staring right back at him. It was brown, like his eye, and when he looked to the left to see if there was anything else to see the other-eye looked that way, too. The eye seemed to mirror his movement, searching for something other than itself to see. As the man pulled away from the peephole he saw that the other-eye was doing the same. Before he got too far away he saw that there were tall, vertical things behind the other-man’s head but he couldn’t tell if it was just the reflection of his forest in the not-quite-glass of the peephole or the real view of the other side of the door. As always, once he moved away from the door the peephole disappeared and the line which separated the tree from the door melted back into the tree, making the door indistinguishable from the rest of the tree. He reasoned that this couldn’t be his last experience with this strange wood before he went back to his wife. It was just too weird and unsatisfying. He moved again to the next tree.
This tree’s peephole showed a scene familiar to the man. It was another version of his house. His wife was there, reading, and the other-man was not too different from the man in the woods. This other man was a little more in shape; his paunch was not fully formed as it was on the man in the woods. His other-wife, though, seemed to be a little heavier than the man in the wood’s wife. The man looked closer and saw that the other-woman wasn’t fat, she was pregnant! He immediately reached for the knot-knob in the tree and opened the doorway into this other-version of his life. When he stepped through the entryway he got that nauseous feeling again and when he opened his eyes he was looking through the other-man’s eyes. He searched his memory and found that his other-wife was 4 months pregnant. He remembered her belly starting to show, he remembered the day she told him the news, and he even remembered the night that the baby was conceived. This was a good place to be. He felt the love and happiness that this situation brought to him and his other-wife. This was a place he could stay for forever. Isn’t this what he and his wife were trying to get to? Hadn’t they been trying to have a baby for the last year? They had gone through so much, fertility drugs and treatments for him and her, and to no avail. Even this version of him seemed happier. The stress of repeated failures had not gotten to him, he felt like he had more energy than he’d had since college. Yes, this was something he could show his wife. He could only notice one other-thing about this world. Instead of a dog they had a cat, curled up in the sun shining through the window, as cats do. He figured he could get used to a cat.
He pulled away from his other-self and found himself back in the wood of many doors. When he looked around to find his dog so they could go get his wife he glanced back at the tree he had just exited. He remembered that the dog had already gone back to their house. He looked back at the tree and the peephole was gone. And the knot-knob. And any trace that there was ever a door to begin with. How could he have forgotten about the way these doors work? You only get one shot once you go in and when you leave you’re closed off forever. He panicked. He’d found the best of all possible worlds and in his haste he threw it away. The man looked down the long stretch of trees he had yet to explore. Maybe there was another great version of his life he could enter down there somewhere. Maybe the next tree had an ever better life in store for him. He could find a him that had his wife, pregnant and happy, unstressed and perfect. He could even get his dog instead of a cat. Yes, that was what he would do. But he couldn’t actually go through the door in that perfect tree. He would peek into each tree in succession, looking and looking until he found the perfect version, where everything worked out as it was supposed to. Then he would mark it and bring his wife back tomorrow. They would hold hands and enter together, becoming a part of their new lives and leaving this imperfect one behind.
He got started on his search. He moved to the next tree and looked in. He rejected it immediately; they had bad taste in music. The next tree showed just the man and his dog, both fat and passed out in the middle of the room. The next tree was one of those dark, empty trees. It gave him a chill, like the first day of fall. Then a scene of the other-man and his other-wife fighting. Then a prison cell. Then a dark emptiness. Then a reasonably happy family, but one without a big screen TV. Can’t have that. Then another eye starring back at him.
He went on for hours and minutes and days, weeks and years and months. He could never find a perfect version. If the tree didn’t show something horrible he could always pick something out which would invalidate the entire universe contained within. The light in the wood of many doors never changed. It stayed the constant amber glow of sunrise or sunset, there was no indication of time passing. It was perpetually the first day of fall. The row of trees never dwindled, either. Soon he could look each way and see a line of trees extending into forever. He continued his search, though, confident that he would find a perfect place to live. A place where every decision worked out as it should and everybody was happy. When you are handed the opportunity to choose your life you would be a fool to pass it over. He was constantly hopeful, sure that the next door would reveal the place he was looking for. It never did.
* * *
The woman was sitting at home, reading. She had sent her husband and the dog off for a walk in the woods behind their house. Sometimes she couldn’t stand being in the same room with him. Nothing was working out as she hoped it would. She thought they would have started a family by now and as much as she loved her husband and their dog she needed more. She knew some of her friends were happy with just their partner but she also knew that she was supposed to have kids. She agreed with her husband that they wouldn’t get tested to find out which of them was the problem. She didn’t want that between them any more than it already was.
When the dog returned half an hour later she wondered where her husband was. The dog was acting strangely, looking back towards the woods and then up at her, expectantly. She tried to bring the dog inside but it wouldn’t come. She asked the dog where her husband was but the dog only looked back the way it had come in response. It was late afternoon, the golden light doing little to lift the crispness of the fall air. She put on a jacket and took a flashlight. She walked into the forest and let the dog take the lead. It sniffed around until it found a red string. She picked up the string and pulled it out from under the dead leaves. It pulled taut and she followed it until she found a tree. The twine disappeared into the ground at the base of the tree. She looked up and saw a long line of trees. It seemed to stretch into the horizon, though she knew that the forest behind their house was only a few acres big. She looked at the tree where the string disappeared and saw that it had a few weird features. At eye level there was a round little bit of ice, and there was a groove in the tree that formed the outline of a door, curved at the top like in a kid’s book. She looked into the ice and smiled.