Tag: short story

Story Corner: The Wood of Many Doors

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!

All the Pretty Trees

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.

Story Corner: Growing

Here’s a little story I wrote a while ago. It is kind of a creation story, kind of a fable. Very much inspired by A.S. Byatt’s short story collection The Little Black Book of Stories and her take on Norse mythology Ragnarok: The End of the Gods. She describes nature really well in a very real yet heightened way. That’s kind of what I was going for here. All photography also by me. Any and all feedback is welcome.

The forest did not begin life as a forest. Nothing ever begins as it ends. The forest, like everything else, began as nothing. Then, after some period, everything was. It still wasn’t a forest yet but it was on its way. It was a bunch of tiny molecules flying through nothing until they ran into some other molecules and stuck together. Those molecules ran into others and others and others and then they formed a sphere because that is what molecules do. The forest was now a mass of swirling, broiling lava. Other molecules formed stars and gas giants and nebulae and everything else. Once some more molecules hit the mass of swirling, broiling lava they became an atmosphere and weather began. The weather was angry at that time, being a newly born child and acting like it, crying and carrying on. Air gave way to clouds which gave way to rain which cooled the lava into hard rock, at least on the outside. Inside it was still swirling and broiling because that’s what planets do.

The forest still wasn’t a forest yet. It was a place on this barren mass of rock; a location which held some promise. The weather continued to grow up but it was a particularly sad child. The only other thing it could play with was the lava, which was as angry as it had been, but the weather’s own actions had hidden the lava away and replaced it with boring rock. The weather cried and cried to see its friend go away and all of that crying covered the planet with salty water. Some of the water seeped down through small holes in the rock and sought out its old friend and some of it found the lava and they shared a brief yet explosive love until the water boiled away. Other parts of the water didn’t reach the lava but found a nice cozy place within the rock to hide and just exist.

The forest still wasn’t a forest yet. It was impossible to be a forest at this point since there was no land. There was only weather and air and water and rock and lava and a few stray molecules that hadn’t yet decided what they were going to be when they grew up. Their time will come in this story, just wait. Now is the time to throw in some action. Parts of the rock didn’t like other parts of the rock. They didn’t agree very much despite being fundamentally identical. One could theorize that being the only separation between the water and its old friend lava didn’t make for a healthy relationship with either element and whenever they could find cracks within the rocks being they would push and pull and tear at them until it broke apart into pieces. Rock is a strong thing and it didn’t break easily nor did it break into small chunks. No, the rock split magnificently and into massive plates. There was much turmoil as some of the newly separate pieces tried to return to each other while other pieces tried to get as far away as possible from its enemy neighbors. Being so big and so conflicted and still so near each other led to a lot of grinding and smashing and erupting. Sometimes the lava would sneak through a fissure created by this turmoil and rejoin the water and remember the good days. This, of course, didn’t last very long and in the end it just created more rock to move and shift and smash and crash. Some of the rock was pushed so hard against the other rock that they had nowhere to go but up, rising out of the water and meeting the air for the first time in a long time. After a while there was a good deal of rock above the water and the rock that made the journey just couldn’t hold itself together with the joy of meeting the air again. It fell apart and became dirt and there was a slightly new element to deal with.


The forest still wasn’t a forest yet. Its place hadn’t moved and it was lucky enough to be located in one of the spots that had risen above the water and become dirt. That was fortuitous for it. Another lucky break was the decision those other molecules made, the slow developers. They joined together and decided to be life. It started in some of the water that got trapped in the rock and dirt of the newly formed land. The molecules tried to be alive and move and they did. They formed cells which grew and formed into things with many cells. These creatures, if we can call them that, did not and could not have strong motivations. They lost that when they decided to be life. That final choice robbed them of will for centuries. In that time they only tried to be alive. It’s hard to do, and even moreso when there’s so little else around you that shares your predicament. What did they have to eat but each other? So they did, and they changed as they multiplied and they diversified. Some grew big and slow and strong while others grew to be quick but relatively weak and others just learned to stay out of the way and plant roots into the dirt around the edges of the pond. The dirt was full of nutrients from all of the turmoil which caused its creation and there was plenty of energy from it and the sun, which also caused all of this. Sometimes those growers would get eaten by other organisms but they were clever and knew that there was strength in numbers and continued to grow and grow and grow and spread and spread and spread. Soon the realized that they could exist off the water which fell from the sky and could venture beyond the pool of water in which they began. The tall, thin, green things spread and became fields. It was the first color on the world that wasn’t angry red or stoic brown or calm blue but vibrant green, a green so green you could tell it had to be alive. The other organisms in the pool continued to grow and diversify as well and some learned that there was food that grew out on the dirt that was the same as the food that grew in the pool and they went up to look at it. It was hard at first to breathe air and walk instead of swim but they did learn and they went wherever the grass went. The followed the green as far as it could go, which turned out to be very far indeed. It went all the way back to the big water which was everywhere that land wasn’t. Some of the walkers decided that they liked swimming better and returned to the sea, though that’s a bit of romanticizing since they had never been in this particular water before. In such a large place they too could spread out and become all different sorts of things. There were fish and sharks and little things that lived on the bottom of the ocean nearest the heat of the lava and little things that floated around the water just being alive. Life was changing on the land as well. Some of the walkers gained legs and others lost them and some changed their legs into hands and others changed their legs into wings. Some of the green stuff changed, too. Some grew shorter and attached themselves to the rocks strewn about the land while others grew taller and taller and reached high up into the air and weather and, since they had so much space, spread out up there. Now the forest was a forest.

It wasn’t done yet, though. There were a few trees and a few smaller shrubs but they couldn’t really be called a forest yet. It had to wait for hundreds of years until there were enough trees in a group to be considered a forest. There were oaks and maples and sycamores and birches and palms and yuccas and ashes and sycamores and hickories and willows and elms and beeches and trees that bore delicious fruits like apples and pears and dates to lure the animals to come and eat them so that they would spread the seeds even further. Soon the forest wasn’t just a forest but an entire wood. It was everything and everywhere and provided shelter to all the animals from rain and wind and anything else the weather could throw at them. It was strong and unmoving. The forest did not – could not – pick up and go elsewhere nor did it lean one way or another. It simply grew up and out and reached into the sky towards the stars. It saw that there was something else above it and, like the squirrels and birds that made their nests in the highest tops of the trees, the forest itself wanted to be up in that higher realm. It could do nothing but grow and grow it did, always yearning to be taller but never getting above a certain level. It was stuck. Even if it did reach up above the air towards the stars it would die. It couldn’t exist out of its own niche, as big a niche as it was. It was sad about this until it looked within itself and saw the things living inside it. There were other plants and small creatures that literally lived inside some of the trees. There were birds and bigger animals that lived on the branches of the trees and other animals that used some dead trees to make their own shelters. All of this life was possible because of the forest and that gave it a sense of completeness. Not full completeness, of course, since it still had things to do.

The forest was, now, but it wasn’t all it was going to be. The forest remained still and unmoving while everything else grew and changed. Some parts of the forest lived for hundreds of years while the animals living within it went through many generations and grew into terrible lizards and little mammals and blood sucking insects. They lived and ate each other and died. Then some of those molecules that had gone off to be something else at the beginning of time returned to the world and met it violently. They did not get along, and it caused great disruption as the seas boiled and the air turned to dust and all the large animals died – and most of the small ones, too. The forest burned and burned and it hurt but there was nothing that it could do. After the burning the world became cold. The forest had done its job, cleaning the air and trying to return the world to its former glory but it wasn’t just one forest anymore. It had split apart, the land relocated all over the world with great seas separating the forest from itself. Everywhere was covered with snow, and mammals adapted to live in it. They grew large and shaggy and some of them had learned to walk on two legs and live in caves. This was the first separation from the forest and it was sad to see them go. It felt every loss deeply. It dreamed that they would return some day to live among the trees again. They didn’t. After the caves they learned how to make fire for themselves and create tools made of stone and wood. The forest was glad to give a piece of itself to the upright animals. It could still feel connected to them and if they were putting it to good use it was happy. Soon the uprights learned to speak with each other and forgot their connection to the forest. They moved farther and farther away from it so that they could build farms and cities and towns. The forest was a place to visit for a picnic or a quick walk or even a weekend stay but even then they would bring pieces of their world into the forest and didn’t even try to reconnect. They had used the forest for building houses at first and the forest was more than happy to help them live in safety as it had when they were walking on four legs. The humans had learned how to make metal, though, and began to use that for its superior strength and cost. Now the wood from the forest was used for end tables and sides of station wagons and paper. The people took more of the forest than they should have and it was hard for it to replenish itself. It was still cleaning the air for the animals and people but it couldn’t keep up with the grime and gunk put in the air by the people trying to live in cities. The forest was overwhelmed and dying.

The people learned how to travel away from their own world. The forest watched in awe as they rocketed towards the stars it wanted so badly to be amongst. The people had left the forest and ruined the world and were now in the process of leaving it behind. They explored nearby worlds at first but quickly learned how to travel farther than they had ever hoped to go. They could visit distant planets and they discovered that they were not alone in the universe. Of course they weren’t, all those other molecules from the beginning had to go somewhere and be something. The people befriended the other beings and shared their triumphs and mistakes. They were invited to live among all sorts of other creatures on innumerable alien planets. By this time they had almost completely abandoned the forest and the world they had grown up in. It was hard for the forest to see the people go away, much harder than when they lived in the cities because they couldn’t even visit anymore. The forest could only look up at the stars and imagine how its old friends were faring on their journey to other planets. Days and months and years and decades and centuries passed and the world returned to its former vitality. Without the humans around to pollute the air and water and ground every remaining life could work together to restore the planet’s glory. The forest was content but at night it still dreamed of growing up to the stars.

One day the humans returned. They marveled at the state of their former home. The forest had reclaimed most of the land and the cities were suggestions of their former selves. Green was everywhere. The people walked around the forest and remembered what they used to be. They had been happy to explore the stars but they, too, always felt like something was missing. They didn’t feel connected to their past and they soon became as melancholy as the forest was in their absence. When they reunited they all wept with joy. The forest shook with excitement as the people climbed in its trees and played with the other animals that had never abandoned the woods. The humans decided to never leave the forest behind again and everybody was happy. Everybody but the forest. It heard the tales of the people’s travels and it was sad that it could never follow them and visit other planets. The people, too, grew less happy. They had tasted absolute freedom and they wanted to return to the stars. This time, though, they would take the forest with them so that they would never be apart again. They transported sections of the forest and all of the things living within it into huge domes and flew them into space to finally join the stars. There were some woods left on the Earth to care for the animals left behind but even they were not sad because they knew that the rest of the forest was up among the stars where it had always longed to be. The forest visited alien forests that grew in strange ways and alien creatures would visit the Earth forests and understand why the humans had to return to Earth and bring the forests with them. The forest continued to travel the universe and live among the stars and everything was as it was until it wasn’t anymore.

Story Time: I Walk In My Dreams

Webs of Trees

Whenever I fly I find I can’t go more than ten feet off  the ground. I kickoff and start to soar and I’ll hope that I’m able to get higher this time. There’s a cruelness to my ability. It’s no fun to just float a little bit above everybody else. It was fine the first time I did it. I thought each time would let met get a little closer to the sun, let me join the birds I watched out my window on rainy days. They still flew around, tweeting and eating the soggy, bloated worms that couldn’t live in their flooded tubes underground. The rain didn’t keep them from flying, soaring, cutting their way through the air. What is keeping me so close to the ground?

There is one benefit to my limited capabilities. When I go to school I can slide into that gap between the students and the ceiling in the hallway. It cuts down on the time it takes me to get from class to class. And after everybody leaves I can swoop up and down the corridors, skimming the top and the bottom of that grey tunnel and the limitation doesn’t feel so arbitrary. I physically can’t go any higher or else I’d run into the acoustical tiles in the ceiling or I’d crash into the floor. Sometimes I stay at school overnight and fly around. It’s not much, but it’s something.

Sun Sun Sun

One time I tried to start from a higher point than the ground. I went up on the roof of my building and jumped. My eyes closed, I could feel the cool air rush past me. This was what it felt like at the best times in those old school hallways, except I could feel the heat of the sun against my face and I could hear the birds, annoyed that somebody else could interrupt their flying space. It must have worked: I never hit the ground. I opened my eyes, excited to see the clouds rushing past me. What I saw was the bricks between the first two floors of my building. Even starting fifty feet or more higher than normal I still couldn’t break through that boundary.

Sometimes I dream of walking. Everybody walks. Everybody is rooted firmly to the ground. They aren’t tempted by the chance of flying high. They look up and know they can’t get to that wide blue space so they go about their day. When I dream I walk from one end of town to the other. It takes all day and all night to do, but it feels like the most wonderful thing in the world. Most people don’t know how easy it is to fly. It’s just a hop and then a way of thinking, knowing you won’t hit the ground. Flying is just willful ignorance of the law of gravity. That’s why everybody flies in their dreams. They don’t know that they shouldn’t be able to do it, so they just do. But walking. Walking takes real effort. Walking lets you know you’re doing something. Walking makes the journey mean as much as the destination. Walking limits you and opens you to see everything as it really is. When you fly past a tree you don’t even notice it as anything but an obstacle, reaching up into your path and trying to stop you from doing what you shouldn’t be doing. When you’re walking a tree is an opportunity. Anything can happen at a tree. You can sit underneath it and read a book or take a nap. It can get blown over in a freak gust of wind or a leaf can fall off. But none of that means anything when you fly past it in half a second.

Jingle Jangle

I can’t walk because I can fly. I can’t truly fly because I’m stuck in between a rock and no place. There’s an invisible barrier that keeps me from achieving my true destiny. But maybe that barrier won’t be there some day. I can’t give up on my flying, subject myself to walk everywhere. Walking is the best thing you can do, as long as you don’t know how to fly. When you know how to fly it makes walking feel like eating your vegetables as a kid. A thing you know you should do but you just can’t bring yourself to do it when there’s candy to be had. Flying is my candy. I know it’s bad for me but I can’t stop. Could you?



A note about the pictures: I took all of these pictures. They aren’t meant to do anything other than indicate flight or a mood. The story isn’t about a bird, it’s a little thing I thought of as I went to sleep last night. I hope you enjoyed it.

The Wood of Many Doors: a test

Here’s the deal. I’ve been writing this short story for about a month now. Well, I’ve had the idea for a month and I started writing it then but I only finished it today. Well, I only finished the first draft today. But I think that draft is pretty good. Maybe. I don’t know. So in lieu of posting the full, unedited piece here for you to read I’m only going to post the first three paragraphs, unedited. Any feedback would be wonderful. You can leave them in a comment for me. I promise I won’t cry if you hate it. Or at least I won’t cry for long. If you have something to say about the style or the writing or whatever, please let me know. We’re only here to get better, right?

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 man 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.

Story Corner: BJ – Prince of the Underworld

This is a short story I wrote during my second year at college. It likely shows a bit of amateurishness. I thought that amateurishness would not be a word but it turns out it is. I think it shows some potential along with the amateurishness. Anyways, here’s my attempt at being Neil Gaiman or whatever. 

Naturally, Mr. B only had ten fingernails. The five on the left hand and the thumb and index nails of the right are the seven Sins. They are useful, but narrow-minded and self-absorbed. You can’t even get a word in edge-wise with Pride. The right-middle nail is my older sister, Gabriel. You may think that Gabby was an angel, but that’s just her cover story. It’s a lot easier to be evil if people think you are an angel. They’ll forgive you for anything. Then there’s my brother, War, Conquest, Pestilence, and Death. He is schizophrenic and a bit of a loose cannon. 
And then, last but not least, I was made from the fingernail of the big man’s pinkie. Yeah, I’m smaller, younger, and not specialized, but I make up for it by… by… well, I haven’t figured out how I fit into everything, but I’m working on it. I can’t even handle human problems, how am I going to figure out my place in the upcoming Apocalypse? 
I suppose I should explain how I look. I don’t have horns or a tail, and I’m not red and my eyes aren’t made of fire. I’m just a normal guy. That’s not me being modest. I am made to look like a combination of every guy in the US, cuz that’s where I’m stationed. My official assignment is as follows, and I quote, “Blend in, and get ready.” Thanks, Dad. Real helpful. I already blend in and I don’t have any idea how to get ready for the freaking Apocalypse. So until the Apocalypse comes, I’m trying to find a girlfriend. 
Dating was so much easier before Google and Facebook and health were involved. I assume Lust and Pride played their role in that. In the middle ages, nobody knew how much danger was inherent in the whole dating process. Now you can’t even blow smoke in a girls face to tell her you’re interested. 
It shouldn’t be this hard to get a girl. I don’t have any defects, I’m charming as hell, and I live in a college dorm. I get enough money from my Dad and I dress sharp. Maybe Lust cursed me. I know she can make people irresistible; perhaps she can do the opposite. That would explain my 600-year-and-counting dry spell. I’ll have to talk to her at Easter. 
* * * 
At first, I thought that “get ready” meant that I should make as much destruction and confusion as possible. Krakatoa was my idea, but I had to get Gabriel to actually make it happen. I also told Pestilence to try out the black plague. He got a little carried away with that one. Of course, my biggest achievement is Yoko. No, I didn’t create her, but I did tell her to put the “YES” at the top of the ladder instead of what she originally planned to put there: “Fuck Off.” I’m pretty proud of that one. 
By the late 1960s, I realized that directly being involved in humanity’s demise wasn’t what I was here for. If I was here to bring the Apocalypse, I would have fucking super-powers; but I don’t, so I won’t. Besides, my instructions weren’t “get them ready” or “get it going,” they were “get ready.” I can only assume now that those instructions mean that I should get a wife or girlfriend or at the very least an acquaintance so I can have a Queen to rule with me over whatever part of creation I get after the Apocalypse. 
So I am here, at State U, to find a Queen. Unfortunately, you can’t just go up to a girl and say, “Hi. I’m BJ, Prince of the Underworld. Do you want to be my Queen after the Apocalypse comes? There are fantastic benefits, and all souls you can eat!” Well, you can say that, but you aren’t likely to find a sane girl who actually goes for that. Trust me. Instead I have to act like a normal college student. Go to classes, do homework, laze about, find a Queen. I have one huge problem when it comes to meeting girls: I can’t get drunk. Or high. It’s in my DNA. I can consume as much alcohol as I possibly can fit into my body and not change a bit. Not even a little tipsy. If you didn’t already know, the easiest way – and I need the easiest way, the Apocalypse is nigh – to meet college girls is to be drunk at a party. I can’t even pretend to be drunk. I just look like a fool and sound like a British person. I asked my Dad at our weekly meetings if he did this to me on purpose, but he quickly changed the subject. 
* * * 
Every Wednesday, we – the family and I – have a meeting and discuss how the Apocalypse is getting along. There is also a good amount of all my siblings making fun of me. It’s great. Since there are eleven of us, we take up a good amount of space, but Dad insists that we rotate whose house we meet at. While this is fine when it’s Gluttony’s turn (great food if you can get it quick enough) or Greed’s week (he has a freaking mansion bigger than the Taj Mahal), when Sloth has to host almost nothing gets done. And ever three months or so it is my great pleasure to bring the Seven Deadly Sins (they make me say it with the capital letters, Pride says he can tell), the Four-in-one Horseman and the Devil himself into my tiny dorm room. As you might imagine, my roommate was a little frightened when ten other people appeared in my room. Not appeared as in showed up, of course. Appeared as in “out of thin air.” They don’t understand that the rest of the world isn’t used to people popping into existence, especially not in the smallest dorm room in the world. Lust immediately took Jesse, my roommate, out into the hall and told him in the way that only she can to stay out there until I came out and brought him back in. 
Dad started with a roll-call. It’s not that he needed to do it – he is all-knowing – but either from centuries of keeping things on the path of the crooked and narrow or from that little bit of him that inspired beaurocrats all around the world, he insisted on the arcane act. After that, he started in his normal tone, “What’s crackin’, hot stuffs?” It was his little joke, the same since the 1600’s, but we all laughed anyways. We remembered when Sloth forgot to chuckle in 1906 and Dad set all of San Francisco on fire. Gabriel had some cleaning up to do with that one, and WarConquestPestilenceDeath did quadruple duty for weeks. Luckily he was well equipped for it. 
We went over what everybody was doing for what seemed like hours. Wrath spent the week screwing over anybody with a college basketball bracket and Envy made sure that each house in L.A. was just a little bit bigger than the one to its left. WarConquestPestilenceDeath was busy in the Middle East. He couldn’t get enough of that place. When it came to be my turn to share, I told the story of the girl with the smoke and the story of the girl who threw up on me last Sunday night. I almost forgot to mention my, uh, erotic dreams about my Geology TA, but Lust took care of that little story. It’s fair to say my father was not very happy with me, for the 1,263rd week in a row. Everything in the room went dark and I swear I heard thunder outside, although the forecast was for blue skies and a slight breeze all week. “OK!” he roared, “I didn’t want to do this, but we don’t have much time left. You need a girl. I am ordering you to go to church on Sunday and woo one of the girls there. If you don’t, you are going to die like the rest of them. There will be no heaven for you, and no hell, either. I wanted this to be a surprise, but the Apocalypse is coming next Wednesday. Hell on earth will finally be a reality, and you damn well better have a Queen by then!” 
The room went silent. After a few minutes Sloth broke the silence with an unhurried declaration of, “I guess that’s that, then. Meeting adjourned?” Normally either the host or Mr. B. adjourned the meetings, but I was still in shock and Dad was still heated. It seems I wasn’t going to get the time to ask Lust about that curse. I was just going to have to try my damnedest. 
One by one, my brothers and sisters left poofing out of existence with a thin wisp of smoke and the faint smell of brimstone the only evidence that they were even there. Only my dad remained. He looked, no, glared, in my direction. I was sitting on my bed, the bottom of a bunk bed, and he was standing framed by the light shining through the cracks in doorway into my dark room. It was strange, how he resembled the classic angel in that light. But back-lighting will do that to anybody, I guess. Then he spoke, “I don’t want you to go on about trying to find love or a soul mate or any of that bullshit. You have tried that for a thousand years now and it hasn’t worked. I just want you to have somebody attractive to be at your side while you rule for eternity. She doesn’t need a personality or anything. Just find her.” And with that he walked out the door and slammed it shut. He could have just disappeared like a normal devil, but he needed to prove a point. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. I wasn’t going to just grab the closest bimbo and whisk her away to the underworld to meet my dad, Beelzebub. Like he said, I was going to spend eternity with this girl. I wanted somebody who would laugh at my jokes and cry at our daughter’s wedding, assuming that there are still weddings after the Apocalypse. 
* * * 
“Hi. I’m Chris. Would you like me to turn around so you can get a full view?” she chuckled. 
She was beautiful, but not in the supermodel way. Chris’ beauty was more in her smile and her laugh. She wasn’t tall, but she also wasn’t short. Her hair was brown but also blonde and, when the light from the stained glass hit her in just the right way, I swear there was a glimmer of red. She wore glasses, but I couldn’t tell if they were for style or correction. Her clothing looked like a mixture of everything from the last fifty years. I think I also saw a sliver of frills, like from a Shakespeare play. 
“Oh, sorry,” I stuttered. 
“That’s ok,” she said, “I’m used to strangers ogling me in church.” 
“Really?” I couldn’t tell if she was joking. Her smile was strange but wonderful. 
“Of course not,” she responded with another laugh. “And you are?” 
“Oh yeah. Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste,” I quoted in my best Mick Jagger impersonation, “My name is BJ.” 
She laughed again. “Should I be afraid of you? You aren’t the devil coming to tempt me, are you?” 
“Not exactly,” I said. Then we laughed. 
The service was over, and we were the only ones left at coffee hour. I had spotted her when I entered the church and sat a few rows back in order to not draw her attention. She didn’t give her full attention to the non-denominational-leader-guy (his words, not mine), but looked around the church and admired the beautiful artwork hanging on the walls. When I asked her if she enjoyed the sermon, she said, “I didn’t really pay attention. God talks in many different ways.” 
“So does the Devil,” I responded. 
“You aren’t one of those ‘fire and brimstone’ guys, are you?” she asked, a nervous smile replacing her joking grin. 
“No, it was just a joke. An unfunny one, but a joke nonetheless.” I added a weak grin on the end of the sentence, hoping to bring the glow back to her face. It worked. 
“Are you doing anything later?” she asked me. 
“No, but I’m not doing anything now, either. Wanna go to Hell?” 
“Sure, just let me run up to my dorm to get my purse,” she took off before I could respond. 
“’Kay! I’ll meet you at my car! It’s the ‘69 De Ville!” I’m pretty sure she didn’t hear the last part. That’s probably for the best. 
* * * 
On the way to the mall with the top down we sang along to the classic rock station. When we got there, we held hands and walked into the restaurant. Hell was the cool place to go. It had the atmosphere and food to make it the only choice for a nice post-church meal. We talked about classes and current events and told jokes and fell in love. At the end of the meal, she leaned over the table to kiss me. I leaned forwards to meet her halfway. It was at this point that my shirt dragged through the ketchup from my fries. It was directly after this point that I yelled “HOLY SHIT!” and then shortly after that that my face turned red and Chris started to laugh. Her laugh was contagious. Soon the entire place was laughing at – no, with – me. “Let’s blow this popsicle joint,” she suggested, and I happily agreed. 
* * * 
I invited her up to my room to meet Jesse while I changed my shirt. She came. 
“I have someone for you to meet, Jesse,” I announced as I entered the door. I told Chris to stay in the hall until I gave her the signal. 
“If it’s another member of your family, I can just leave. No offense, but they are strange and your sister scares me a little.” 
“No,” I laughed, “but she is a girl. Meet Chris.” 
She ran in and gave him a big hug. “I’ve heard so much about you!” This was a lie. I didn’t talk about Jesse at all, but she knows what to say and how to say it. 
“Cool,” Jesse said. I could tell he was in shock. In the three years we were roommates, I had never brought back a girl to the room. 
On the way up to the room, I had decided to tell both of them what I really was. I thought Jesse could handle it by now, and I didn’t want to lie to Chris. It was going to be quite a scene. 
“I have something to tell you guys. I feel like you and I are brothers, Jesse. And Chris, I love you more than anything in this world or any other. There is something that I haven’t told anybody ever. I am the son of the Devil. The Apocalypse is coming in three days and I want you guys to help me stop it.” I waited for the laughter and snickering. 
They laughed, but didn’t snicker. “We know,” they said. 
I stared at them. It was like a sitcom. I went from Jesse to Chris to Jesse to Chris with my mouth open and eyes wide. 
After a moment that seemed like an hour, Chris explained. 
“We have been following you. Not in the stalking way, but keeping an eye on you, making sure you don’t get into too much trouble. It wasn’t easy. Even with being an angel it was hard to—” 
“You’re an angel?” I asked, shocked. 
“Well of course I am, who else would you fall for? Opposite attract, or so they say. The Big Man made me especially for you to fall in love with. I was created to become your Queen,” she looked to Jesse to continue. 
“She’s right, dude. Sorry we couldn’t tell you,” he apologized, “but you had to trust us enough to come to us yourself or nothing would work and the Apocalypse would truly be upon us.” 
My mouth was still hanging open. It wasn’t very comforting to know that the woman of my dreams was actually a warrior for the other side. And I still didn’t know what the Hell Jesse was. I gathered up enough smarts to close my mouth and ask him who he really was. 
“I’m no angel, BJ.” That was good news, at least. “But I’m not on ‘your side’ either. I’m in the middle, a Keeper of the Peace, if you will. Both of your fathers agreed that there would be a middle man of sorts to make sure nobody can control the world.” 
“So are you immortal, too?” 
“No. Sorry.” He looked away from me to the portrait of John Lennon on the wall. “Each generation, one human is picked to hold the knowledge of all Creation, including Heaven and Hell. I was the lucky one. I will live longer than most, a good diet and exercise is the only true fountain of youth, but I won’t live forever. My only goal is to keep humans alive, by any means available to me. I know – have known for my entire life – that you, BJ, are the only creature that can bring the Apocalypse to Earth. But you are also the only person that can stop the Apocalypse from ever raining down upon us for the entirety of human existence. It all comes down to you. Do you want to reign over the earth and its evil inhabitants, or can you find it in you to save humanity?” I could tell he was finished because he looked deep into my eyes. I didn’t know how to react to all of that information that he spouted at me in the space of a minute. I suppose he was used to it, but I wasn’t. After a minute of us staring at each other, I responded. 
“I don’t know. I certainly wouldn’t mind hanging around Earth and not worrying about finding a Queen or plotting to raise Hell, but I don’t know how to stop the Apocalypse from coming. I don’t even know what my dad has planned for me. I never did. I was never smart enough to figure out what he wanted; much less figure out how to stop him from getting what he wants.” I was defeated before we even began to fight. 
“Don’t worry about that, BJ.” Chris moved over to my side and took my hand in hers. “If you really are on humanity’s side, we will be successful.” 
“That’s comforting, Chris, but do you think we could get a little insight from the G-Man? I like to know that he is on my side, but it would be great to have any kind of clue on how to stop my dad.” 
“God works in mysterious ways, BJ. He told me once that even he doesn’t know how things will happen; he just takes the credit for the good stuff and blames your pop for the bad. Not quite what you expected is it?” 
“Not at all,” I said, “but this little talk turned out slightly better than I expected. At least you two aren’t running to the police to get me locked up in the psych ward.” 
“Don’t get too excited,” Jesse said. “We still have to figure out how to stop the Devil from fucking over the entire human race. And, more importantly, you two have to get married.” 
Chris and I stared at him. I resumed catching flies with my mouth and Chris joined me. “What?” she asked. 
“Didn’t I tell you? Hmm. Must have slipped my mind. When I was born I knew that I would befriend the demon who would stop the apocalypse and that and that I would bear witness at his wedding to an angel. Once you brought Chris up here I knew she was the one who would tip the balance in favor of humanity and make an honest man, sorry, demon, out of you. I just didn’t have the authority to tell you. Sorry.” 
“It’s ok. But if you ever keep information from us like that again, we will banish you to the farthest reaches of space.” I said with a serious look on my face. 
“Can you do that?” He looked scared. 
“That is for us to know and you to find out. Or not. It’s up to you.” 
“I see.” He was still scared a bit, but I think he knew, or could at least feel, that I was lying. 
“Let’s get to the church, we don’t have much time.” Chris grabbed my arm and yanked me up. 
“We have until Wednesday, we don’t have to rush,” I said. 
“Not anymore we don’t. Your dad bugged the room and knows that we are going to stop him. He is gathering his strength now and will be ready by tonight. Sorry I didn’t tell you before. I’m not allowed. Please don’t banish me,” Jesse pleaded. 
“I’m not going to banish you. But there will be consequences.” I tried to growl and intimidate him, but it turned into a laugh instead. 
“I knew you couldn’t do that to me,” he said, starting to laugh with Chris and me. 
“Sure you did,” Chris said between guffaws. 
“But seriously, why do Chris and I have to get married right now? Wouldn’t it make more sense to plan our attack?” 
“We have to get married for your powers to become active,” Chris seemed to have gotten a handle on her laughter. 
“I don’t have any powers. I can’t even light things on fire.” 
“Of course you have powers. You are the son of the Devil. Just because you were made from his pinkie nail doesn’t mean that you aren’t powerful. Because you were the last of his offspring to be sprung, you have the most of him in you. That is why only you can stop him.” Chris grabbed my hand again and squeezed tight. 
I pulled my best Keanu, “Whoa.” 
“Yeah, tell me about it.” Jesse said. “Mind reading would have helped on those exams last year.” 
“Says the man who holds all of the knowledge in the world in his head,” I retorted. 
“What can I say,” he said with a big grin, “I’m a genius!” 
In true action movie style I said, “Let’s do this.” 
It would have been cool if we all did a high-five or fist-pound or something, but we didn’t. We just left. First the church, then a fight to the death with my Dad for humanity. You know, a typical Sunday at State U. 
* * * 
We arrived at the same church we had left only a few hours earlier just in time to see the “non-denominational-leader-guy” lock up the doors. We ran up to him and Chris asked in the sweetest voice I had ever heard if he could do a quick favor for us. 
“What do you want?” John, the non-denominational-leader-guy, asked. 
“BJ and I would like to get married. And we could use any holy water you might have lying around.” 
“Marriage I can do, but it won’t be official with the government or anything.” 
“That’s ok. As long as we are married in God’s eyes we have everything we need. And the holy water?” I asked. 
“Sorry, fresh out,” John said. 
“That’s ok, let’s just do the marriage then,” Chris responded. 
“Alright then. Is this young man going to be the witness?” He indicated Jesse with a wave of his hand. 
“Yeah, that’s my job,” Jesse said, a knowing smile gracing his face. 
* * * 
“You may kiss the bride” John finished the ceremony. 
As I kissed Chris for the second time ever, I felt an energy flow between us. She wasn’t transferring any to me and I wasn’t losing any to her, but I could feel a great power course through us. She opened her eyes wide and I followed suit. We stared into each other’s souls and I knew that I had made the right choice. I could almost feel the sparks flying from our embrace. 
“Uh…” Jesse must have noticed the sparks, too. He sounded worried. We pulled apart and I felt more alive than I had for the thousands of years that I had been on this planet. I didn’t have any knowledge of my powers instantly inserted into my brain or anything like that, but I knew that I had a great force within me that I knew could finally defeat my dad once and for all. I felt confident and I could see in Chris’ eyes that she felt the same. 
“Thanks,” we yelled in unison as we went out the door. 
Maybe John-the-non-denominational-leader-guy said “You’re welcome,” maybe he didn’t. We were instantly transported to the middle of the desert. Death Valley, if I knew my father at all. 
“Welcome to Death Valley!” I heard my dad’s booming voice. 
“I called it,” I muttered. 
“Huh?” Chris asked. 
“Nothing. Get ready for anything. Don’t believe what you see. Close your eyes and know the truth if you see something disturbing. He can’t kill anybody other than us. It’s the rules.” She grabbed my arm and I held her tighter than I ever held anything before. 
“As challenger to the throne, you get to choose the method of combat,” my dad said to me. 
I went through the things I was good at in my head. Tetris? No, he is too smart for that. A singing competition? No, he was too talented for that. Then I found it. The one thing that I can do that he can’t. “Let’s have a good old fashioned drinking competition. Raiders of the Lost Arc style. You can even use your special vodka. The bottle you keep deep in the bowls of hell.” 
“Excellent. Fun and the Apocalypse. What more could you need?” 
“It would be good for you if you remembered that I can’t get drunk, since you are my father and everything, but I guess your ego is too big to think of little stuff like that in your shining moment,” I whispered to Chris. She let out a little laugh. It was so little that it would seem like she was just hiccupping. It was at this point that I knew we won. 
And we did win. I drank my father under the table. Then Gabriel sat down in his place and challenged me again. Nobody in my family knew that I was immune to alcohol, and they paid for it. After Gabriel was finished, The Four Horseman was next and went down faster than Gabby and Dad. Only Pride gave me trouble. He couldn’t handle his little brother beating him at anything. It was a sweet victory. After I slammed the last glass on the table (number 666, appropriately enough), Chris, Jesse and I came up to me and we held hands in a circle and transported back to the church steps. It was a warm, sunny day, and we walked into the future.