The White Door © 2013 G. J. Owens


     She could still hear the screams.  They echoed inside her head, rolled end to end, rattling like marbles in a cup.  As Diane shook her head in an attempt to dislodge them, her matted and greasy blonde hair swished through the cold air pervading the interior of the car.  No luck.
     Leave then!  You’re impossible!  No wonder your father went crazy and did what he did!
     The tears breaking through the dam of her eyelids turned the road before her into runny watercolor, the wet slosh of snow passing beneath the car’s tires with increasing velocity.  The flakes falling from the weary gray sky cut the headlamps’ light into outward traveling diamonds, stretching it left to right before ultimately rendering it diffuse.
   He wouldn’t listen to her.  Explanations, irrefutable reasons were playing a plaintive but indistinct melody on her vocal chords—I couldn’t help myself; it was a mistake; it’ll never happen again—but she could not force the words past her tongue.  Rendered mute in the face of his anger, she reverted to a defenseless child and simply stopped fighting.  Her notions of well-crafted protestations were swallowed, and, with head in hands, she began to cry.  At no time since had she stopped, leaving the house to which she would never return, driving into the mountains in a car long gone to rust.  Not once did the tears cease.
   Wrapped around the cracked and riven black rubber of the steering wheel, the skin of Diane’s knuckles was as white as the bone beneath.  The blood of her fingers, desperately curled with tremendous strength, had long since drained away.  The overworked engine of the car gurgled and sputtered and whined.  Its body swayed between lines painted on the road, white and yellow streaks slowly being obliterated by the snowfall.  Knuckles popping in a symphony of relief, she unclenched one grasping hand from the rough surface of the steering wheel and swiped the back of it over her wet, puffed eyes in an attempt to clear away the tears.  It was futile.  Without end, as if through a bodily purge, some self-defense, the tears continued to form, teeter on her eyelashes, and then slide down cheeks blushed by pain and slaps.
     With an unsteady hand, Diane sloppily negotiated the twisting bends of the roadway, the vehicle’s tires kicking slush onto the berm.  They fought for purchase on the road’s slick white surface.  The worn rubber held less contact with the pavement on each new treacherous twist, and Diane unwittingly increased her speed until the speedometer’s white needle reached the very right of its arc, where it waggled to-and-fro like an admonishing finger.  A high-pitched bleat preceded the rocketing form of a passing car to Diane’s left.  Only instinct saved her from a vicious crash in this wonderland of white and green and gray blurs.  After yanking the steering wheel and bringing her vehicle back fully into her own lane, Diane attempted to regain the focus required to avoid disaster. 
     Why should I care?  No one would miss me anyway.  I certainly wouldn’t if I were them.
     A terrible daughter, a worthless sister, a lost soul, she was all of these.  She could hide from anything beyond the veil of death.  Nothing would be able to lay hands on her, hurt her.  As a little girl, before the betrayal and the loss of innocence that came with it, she had been afraid of the dark.  It was the only fear she could ever remember having.  It was so bad, its grip so overwhelming, she would refuse to open a window at night no matter how stifling the heat because she feared to let the dark seep in, bringing with it any manner of thing.  She imagined too-sharp teeth, too many arms, and claws built for skewering.  It wasn’t long after—after she’d come to know real fear—that she could laugh at such nonsensical childishness, but as with any phobia, she had never fully rendered it extinct, and the fear of eternal dark, endless night, was at least one reason not to tempt an early exit from the world, as imperfect and painful as it might be.
     The mountain road curved and wound into the distance.  More rapidly falling snow decreased Diane’s field of vision.  Needling her like a pebble trapped in the bottom of a shoe was the realization she should not be driving near as fast as she was, but her heavy emotions lent their weight to her foot.  In the short years since she’d learned to drive, speed had always acted as a relaxant for her, and her knowledge of the road lessened her fear even as the increasing daubs of white added an element of peril to an act she took for granted.  Too late she became aware of the deer standing in the middle of the road, bemusedly staring down the oncoming girth of deadly steel.  The headlights sparkled in the animal’s unblinking brown eyes.  With breath arrested in her throat, Diane jerked the wheel to the right to avoid a collision.  By only inches did she miss its furred form.
     She did not miss the tree.
    The car hit the trunk of the large pine like cheddar to the wire of a cheese cutter, tossing the tree’s needles into the air in a cloud of jagged dandruff.  The vehicle’s front end buckled and split around the unmoving trunk of the tree.  The sound of collapsing metal sent the black shapes of birds spinning up into the leaden sky and small mammals darting through the woods, away from the carnage.  A saw could not have sliced through Diane’s Mustang with more alacrity.  The driver’s side of the car was one with the tree when the other half had finally come to rest nearly ten feet away.
     Lacking an air bag, nothing cushioned Diane’s head as it met violently with the steering wheel, bending it under the force of the impact, and her forehead came to rest in the hollow created by the folding of the upper half of the wheel’s circle.  Blood poured from broken skin, meandered down the steering column, cut through the dirt and dust there, and dripped pat pat onto the denim covering her legs.  Her body lay motionless, fragile.  Sucked as if by an asthmatic or heavy smoker, the air was pulled from the ruined carapace of the vehicle with a wheeze.  Snow swirled through the air in all directions like a scene trapped within water enclosed by plastic.  A resounding thump broke the preternatural silence following the cacophony of rent metal.  Heavy powder, released from where it had been clotted in the tree’s branches, slammed onto the crumpled hood of the car.
     The scene stood as though time had been chased away by the impact and uproar.  Only the falling snow belied the frozen image.  Eventually, other movement stirred the scene.  A bubble of blood formed on Diane’s lips and a groan gurgled up from her lungs.  Her head throbbed in time with her heartbeat and a spatter of blood flecked the vinyl of the seat’s headrest as her body slumped backward.  Breath came to and left her lungs in shallow, ragged gasps.  Darkness covered her eyes with hands of velveteen black, and Diane’s heartbeat increased in tempo, spurred by fear.  Frantic, darting hands wiped across her face, her eyes.  Viscous liquid, slick and slippery, coated her fingers and Diane could not repel images of bursting eyeballs oozing from hollowed sockets, dripping egg white down her cheeks.  She raised her hands in the air to see no milky white paste coating them.  It was a revelation; she could see her hands.  She blinked away more of the blood coagulating in her eyes and looked around the car, trying to gain her bearing.
     The wind slipped through the trees and sounded a reveille when it whistled through the torn metal of the vehicle.  It brought the darkness with it, and Diane was frightened despite herself.  The chill belonged to some ice creature’s tongue as it licked her.  After following a mental checklist that revealed all of her body parts were where they ought to be, and worked, she unbuckled her lap belt and pushed at the door.  It gave easily, almost dropping from its hinges, and she stumbled from the vehicle.  Outside, her eyes fell upon the wreckage.
   The sight exposed in front of her appeared better suited for CNN news coverage of a distant war zone than a car crash on a lonely mountain road.  It looked as though a giant of lore had cleaved her car in twain with a sword the size of a house, or some aborigine had cracked a giant beetle to get at the meat within.  In the muddy earth, peaks and valleys of plowed soil were created by the car's progress, extending from the spot Diane’s car had initially left the road to where its broken form now rested against the unmovable girth of the tree.
     A limp hobbling her progress, Diane made her way to the part of the car that had spun away from the tree, a channel cut in the snow behind her as she dragged her foot.  A quick search revealed her cell phone, left intact and undamaged upon the floor of the passenger side.
     Thank God for technology.
     A piercing cry blazed through the night air, originating from across the two-lane road.  The ululant howl was that of a werewolf barking at a moon Diane could not see, but judging by the manner in which the falling snow glowed as if infused with low-grade radiation, she could imagine it to be a full one.  Trying to push the man-wolf image from her mind, she turned the cell phone’s power on.  With a beep, black letters on a neon green background informed of the device’s inability to receive a signal.  She cursed under her breath and a new wave of pain tickled her forehead.
     The phone thrust out in front of her as if it were a poisonous snake, she wandered unsteadily toward the blacktop now completely covered by a white sheath.  The phone’s signal meter did not register even one bar.  The road was not canopied by the surrounding trees, yet any pathway for the phone’s reception was still effectively cut off.  She cursed again, softer this time.  At the same moment, another wolf-like howl found its way through the trees to rest on Diane’s ears.  The darkness around her seemed to deepen with the wail, and her childhood fear once again got the best of her.  Visions of foul beasts, vomited from hell, feeding on her entrails and grinning through bloodstained teeth immediately sprung to mind.  Unsuccessfully she tried to put those fears to rest.  There was real terror for what followed.
     Barely audible, breathed more than spoken, words whispered on the wind.  They sinuously sidled through the trees.
   Diane shivered.  She thought her concussed brain and heightened state of anxiety must have been playing tricks on her.  But then, louder.
     Limbs hobbled by pain were infused from a reserve of strength she had been unaware of as she turned and ran.  Without logic, driven solely by fear, she burst into the woods, passing the corpse of her automobile as she did.  After a period of unsure footing, feet sliding in the snow, Diane was able to gain her head.  Like willing accomplices of the disembodied voice, branches slapped and pulled at her, trying to hold her.  More cuts opened in her soft, already bloodied skin, but she paid them no observance.  She ran—fear her only fuel, rationality left behind when confronted by a nightmare come true.  The face at the window in the dead of night was real and its eyes were staring straight at her.
     Her lungs burned as if on fire and the pain of stitch felt like someone had stabbed her in the side.  Reaching up, an unseen root tripped her, and Diane fell to the ground with a crack.  Her body sprawled in the snow, kicking up a cloud of powder.  She feared something was broken.  Searing pain played a concerto on her ankle.  She rubbed it and tried to massage feeling into the afflicted area, oblivious to the snow covering her in sheets.  She strained to hear any sounds of approach but her labored breathing increased the difficulty of the task.  She could hear no pursuit.  Just as she began to calm slightly, a modicum of rationality reasserting itself on her mind, the voice came again.  This time close, very close.
     And a breathless moment later.
     “Must...have.  Want...need.”
  Adrenaline, sapped by Diane’s desperate dash through the woods, was now utterly depleted.  The pain in her ankle lit off fireworks behind her eyes during her attempt to stand.  Either inspired by the injury or perhaps her overriding fear, tears formed in her eyes once again.
   The voice surrounded her with its pervading tenor.  No direction offered escape from it.  As if her mind were addled from too much drink, the world spun.  The dull thrum of a heartbeat and the wind being sucked in and out gave life to the woods.  After a quick turn, preparing for another attempt at escape, it stood directly in front of her.  She blinked her eyes in rapid succession but still it remained.  She knew it had not been there a moment before.
     Between two lonely birch trees was a white door.
    Unaided by brace or frame it stood, unashamed by its defiance of gravity.  Hinges were closed tight to the wood on the right edge, fastened only to air.  Open veins of white paint bled flaking sawdust.  A soft fluorescence leaked from its edges.  No snow clung to it.
At that moment, having completely swallowed the vision with her eyes, Diane knew she was dreaming.  Putting a nightmare face to the voice of some wood-bound psychotic was natural enough, but the impossibility of the sight in front of her was too much.  She pinched herself; a response engrained by so many stories only resulted in pain.
     She was not asleep and no waking to familiar surroundings awaited her.
   The voice was immediately behind her now.  Spurred by the unreality of her situation and her stifling lack of options, she approached the door.  She feared it less than the voice, if only marginally.  She had become accustomed to terrible things beyond that door.  Desperation was fueling her actions.
She did not believe her ankle to be broken, only badly sprained, but she could still only manage a shuffle.  She approached the door, the trees yawning around it.  The soft glow continued to emanate from the door’s edges but was sourceless and did not illuminate anything in the area.  It was cold, dead.  Cautiously, she lifted her hand and placed it upon the paint-cracked surface of the door.  Her hand, as if moving without aid of cogent thought, slid down the wood, chips of paint flaking away under her palm.  Peering at the ground, Diane could not see any sign of the debris; the snow and earth had swallowed them.
   No time remained for her.  Diane grabbed the door’s handle, twisted and pulled it toward her.  Light, still lifeless, filled the rectangular space vacated by the opening of the door.  Snow drifting from the sky, the path cut by her shuffling steps, and darkness unfathomable was all her eyes could see as she turned and looked behind her.  Driven by fear and instinct—it was almost as though the light from the door were singing her a sweet lullaby—she stepped through the door and into the light.
    The entire environment was exactly the same, minus the snow and the dark.  Sunlight cascaded through the trees and caressed the cold from her bones.  Looking in the direction she’d come, following a quick turn, Diane saw the two birch trees, but any signs of the existence of a door were gone.  It was as if it had never stood.
     Heartened by the sunlight, with a mind more willing to accept she’d in fact dreamed everything, Diane stepped between the birch’s white-skinned trunks and painfully made her way back along the path of her frantic, imagined flight.  Cold air nipped at her where the snow had penetrated her clothing, even as the sun lifted wisps of steam like cigarette smoke from her jacket.  Diane froze.  Dreams did not leave pain in their wake, nor did they make clothes wet.  Her head was addled, but she could not reconcile it.  Her ears did not perceive any threat—no remnants of the ethereal voice, no whispered words of menace.  She could only walk and wonder at the truth of what she’d experienced.  Eventually she reached the road.
     There was no car, not a single sign of an accident.  A trill fluttered through her tense chest.  Rationality battled fear as she tried to find some clue, wondered if she had followed the right route to her vehicle.  Bewildered and confused by her pounding head, she thought she must have simply strayed from the path, arrived at the incorrect destination.  She instinctively touched a rosy hand, dried blood cracking along its skin, to her forehead and felt the congealed liquid pasted there, matting her hair.  Her mind was playing tricks.  That had to be it.
    Following a moment of indecision, Diane set off up the deserted road in an attempt to find the scene of her accident and the cell phone she must have left there, her thoughts and conclusions lost in a jumble.  Perhaps she would even be lucky enough to encounter a vehicle driving along the road, a Good Samaritan willing to help a bloody and bruised woman.  She walked maybe a quarter mile, pain throbbing in her ankle the entire time, before she had to rest.
     The leaves of the trees immediately to her left came alive with a violent rustling.  Her head snapped around only to see the motion arrested.  The wind.  Straightening up, she shook her head and a small, nervous chuckle escaped her mouth.
     Darkness burst through the trees.
    Eyes like ink stared.  Fangs as sharp as the most vile vampire’s protruded from a misshapen shark mouth.  Claws longer than seemingly possible, a corruption of anatomy, tipped each of the hands at the end of the creature’s four arms.  Its body was made of impenetrable darkness and moved as though a thousand rats struggled beneath a sheet of black satin.
     Diane did not even have time enough to scream before the embodiment of her every nightmare enfolded her, an image of two young girls in her head: one she had loved and one she used to be.

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