Published Monthly



The Door Maker
by Mark Schmunk

It looked like a simple butcher knife. At least it did at first glance, but as soon as Danny Oswalt picked it up, there was no doubt it was something special, something rare. At only ten years old, Danny hadn’t had much opportunity to handle knives, but knife or not, he had never touched anything before that filled him with instantaneous excitement.

He turned it in his hand, feeling its comforting weight and the way it seemed to hum as if an almost imperceptible electric current ran though it. The sun shining through the open window in his grandfather’s bedroom reflected off the polished surface of the blade, coloring Danny’s face with flashes of red and blue light. He ran one small finger across the intricate designs carved into the surface of the handle. The intertwined lines seemed to form a cluster of stars drifting into what could have been a black hole.

Danny looked up, eyes wide. “Where’d you get it grandpa?” He carefully slid the knife back into its scabbard, giving it the respect it had already earned. The scabbard, like the knife, resembled nothing Danny had ever seen. It had the soft feel of tanned leather, but the nickel-sized scales gave it the appearance of reptilian skin.

Bill Oswalt slowly rocked in his well-worn oak rocker. A low squeaking sound filled the room with each forward and backward motion. He looked into his grandson’s slate gray eyes, eyes almost identical to his own that sparkled with life and curiosity. A thin smile, that could have been fond remembrance or concern, crossed Bill’s lips. The lines around his mouth and eyes made evident Bill’s seventy-five years of a life filled with adventure, wonder, and fear.

He stopped rocking and leaned forward. When he did, a lock of his thick gray hair spilled over his forehead and he absently brushed it back. He put his hand on Danny’s shoulder. His hand was warm and gentle, but he squeezed the boy’s shoulder just enough to let him know what he was about to tell him was important. Maybe the most important thing anyone would ever tell him in this world or any other.

“Danny,” Bill said, and glanced toward the bedroom door. Danny followed his grandfather’s gaze then looked back.

“What?” Danny said lowering his voice in response to his grandfather’s confidential tone.

Bill beamed. Danny, being his only grandson, cemented Bill’s love for the boy even more than what seemed possible. He had already told himself if there were any indications Danny wasn’t ready for what he was about to tell him, he would take his secret to the grave, which probably wasn’t all that far away according to Doc Adams.

“Danny,” Bill repeated, “I am about to tell you something that I have never shared with anyone in this world.”

“Not even grandma?” Danny asked, his eyes widening.

“No. Not even grandma, especially not grandma. Hell... ah I mean heck.” Bill shot a glance towards the doorway to make sure Wendy didn’t hear him swear in front of Danny. “Anyways,” Bill said still looking a little embarrassed “if I told her when I was younger she would have thought I was crazy, and if I told her now, she would think I was senile.”

“Isn’t senile just another word for crazy?” Danny asked.

Bill laughed. “Yeah, I guess there must be a certain age when you go from just plain ol’ crazy to senile.” He ruffled Danny’s black wavy hair, another trait his grandson had inherited from him. “Well, whatever you want to call it, just know that I’m not.” He took his hand off Danny’s shoulder and leaned back in his chair causing it to squeak again.

Danny leaned forward.

“It was a long time ago. I probably wasn’t much older than you are right now. Or was I your age?” His forehead creased. “You know I might have been a year or two younger than you. I know I wasn’t sixteen yet because I was riding my bike. You know I used to ride my bike almost everywhere and-”

“Come on grandpa,” Danny said, trying not to sound impatient. “Does it really matter that much?”

Bill laughed again and gazed out the window. He supposed it didn’t and wondered if he was just subconsciously delaying telling the boy. Bill’s smile faded into the deep lines of his face. But what if he told the boy and something happened to him? He would never forgive himself and the guilt would no doubt kill him, cheating cancer of the privilege. Then he thought about the things Danny could see and do, things only a rare few could ever experience. Bill thought about the things he himself had seen and done, things that stretched his imagination to breaking point and beyond. Things he wouldn’t trade anything in the world to have missed.

Taking a deep breath, Bill nodded. “All right, all right. No, it doesn’t really matter. Let’s just agree I was about your age. Anyway, I was riding my bike on South River Road when I saw him.”

“Saw who?” Danny asked. He was so far on the edge of his seat now that it looked he could fall off with the slightest nudge.

“The... the man who gave me the knife.” Bill paused then went on. “At first, I didn’t even see him. I was heading over to my best friend Tommy’s house for a pick up game of baseball, and the thought of someone lying in the ditch was the last thing on my mind.” A glint of excitement flashed in Bill’s eyes as he went back to that day sixty plus years ago. “It was the first part of August, and corn lined both sides of the road, so when he first called out to me I just thought it was the wind rustling the corn, but as I rode on, he called out louder.”

***

“Wait!”

Billy Oswalt’s heart jumped and he pushed down on the bike’s pedal brake, skidding to a stop. He could have sworn he just heard someone say something, but who-

“Wait... please.”

Billy jerked around, his heart suddenly beating hard in his chest. “Hello? Is someone there?”

“Here...”

Billy looked towards the sound of the voice. About twenty yards back, he could just make out a figure lying at the base of the rows of corn that flanked the road. He slowly got off his bike and walked it back. He used his right foot to pop down the kickstand and left the bike propped up on the road. Ten feet from him, Billy could see the man lying on his back. He was wearing a dark green shirt that stopped at his thighs, and what looked like a leather strap was tied around his waist. His pants looked like they were leather too and were the same color as his shirt. His thick blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail and tied with similar leather as on his waist.

“Hey mister, are you okay?” Billy asked.

“Come quickly,” the man pleaded.

Billy took a few cautious steps forward and stopped. A dark stain was growing on the man’s side and the fabric of his shirt looked like it had been torn. Billy’s dad worked for the South Charleston fire department and had shown everyone in his family the basics in first aid. Knowing what his dad did for total strangers instilled a natural tendency for Billy to want to help, and Billy loved the idea of being able to tell his dad he actually saved someone’s life.

“What happened?” Billy asked now kneeling beside the man. The fragrant scent of pine trees emanated from the man. He looked at the man’s side and winced. The cuts looked to be deep and jagged. He looked at the man's face. It was twisted in pain and his eyes were squeezed shut.

“The door maker... take it please,” the man gasped.

“Door maker?” Billy said confused

The man moved his right hand towards the leather strap around his waist. Billy grimaced as he noticed folds of skin like webs between the man’s fingers, forming a sort of split hoof. Billy’s watched the man’s hand and tensed when he saw him reach for what might have been a large hunting knife in a leather scabbard.

“Take it... now.” He pulled a large knife from the scabbard and held it towards Billy.

“Why? What...” Billy couldn’t understand why the man was trying to give him his knife and thought the man might have been going into what his dad had described to him as shock. The man took a deep rattling breath and seemed to draw strength from some far reaches of his soul, because he suddenly became lucid and opened his eyes. When he did, Billy jumped back. The man’s eyes were bright yellow and his pupils were the rectangular shape of a goat’s.

“Listen… please… I know my wounds are mortal.”

Billy stayed a few steps back, but didn’t run. His dad had told him about the crazy things that happened to people when they were in serious accidents. Things like lifting weights off themselves that would normally take four people to lift or being able to run from an attacking bear even while their intestines strung out behind them like wet pink rope. Billy thought maybe the strange eyes were one of those crazy things.

Seeming not to notice Billy’s apprehension, the man went on. “Unseen worlds surround us. Some are wondrous, wondrous beyond imagination...” The man’s eyes seemed to lose focus and a thin smile grew on his face. Then he coughed and blood so dark it may have been purple, sprayed from his mouth and splattered his chest. He looked back at Billy, focusing his goat’s eyes on him. “But some worlds house evil. You must beware as you travel between.” The man held the knife and its strange scaled scabbard towards Billy. “Please... take it.”

Billy’s heart was pounding and he would have given anything to have his dad here to take care of this. The glory of telling his dad he saved someone’s life meant nothing to him now. This was beyond what his dad had prepared him for, way beyond.

“Listen mister, you just need to lay back and relax. My dad is a fireman and he can help you. We just live a couple of miles from here. I’ll get on my bike and get him. Just stay-”

“No, there’s no time. Take it.” This time the man sounded urgent.

Billy kneeled back down. “Okay mister, I’ll take it just relax.” He reached out and took the knife from the man, and as he did, he felt a vibration coming from it, almost like it was humming with electricity. He looked at the knife, then back at the man with the goat’s eyes. Billy’s mouth was half open, as if to ask what were happening, but no words came out. The man saw the look in Billy’s eyes and despite his pale, blood spattered face, produced a genuine smile.

“You have the gift to use it,” the man said, resting his head back in the tall grass.

“What... what do you mean, use it?” Thoughts raced through his mind in bright lighting bolts. Where was this man from? His talk of other worlds surrounding them had to be crazy, but the pupils. The pupils are only because he is going into shock, his logical mind told him. But how had the man gotten in the ditch? There was no car or bike in sight, and no evidence he came from the corn.

“The worlds are separated by a thin sheet or fabric... the maker can split fabric... make an opening.” The man was starting to drift off, and his eyes had mercifully closed again. “Don’t lose your way in... don’t loose the maker.”

“How do I use it?” Billy asked struggling to maintain control of himself.

“You will know... but you must beware...”

“What do you mean I will know? How will I know and beware of what?” Billy almost screamed. His hair suddenly whipped wildly around his head as a whirling dust devil crossed over him. The corn shook and swayed. Behind him, his bike fell over in the road causing the bell on the handlebars to ring out one shrill chime. Then, as Billy watched in horror, the man with the goat’s eyes began to fade. At first, Billy couldn’t process what he was seeing because what he was seeing was impossible, then the grass below the man’s body started to come into view as the consistency of his form wavered then drifted away like smoke.

***

“You boys okay in there?” Wendy asked through the open bedroom door. Both Bill and Danny jumped at the same time and looked toward the doorway where Wendy stood holding a laundry basket half full of towels.

“Yes, we’re fine,” Bill said, sounding irritated.

“Little jumpy aren’t you Bill?” Wendy grinned. “What are you boys talking about in there?”

“Can’t a couple of guys have a conversation without some woman wanting to jump in the middle of it?” Bill asked.

Wendy huffed “I suppose so. Danny, can I get you some cookies? I just pulled them out of the oven and they’re chocolate chip, your favorite.”

“No, maybe later grandma,” Danny said quickly.

Wendy gave both of them a look a mother may give her kids when she knows they are up to something, but not quite sure what. “All right then, I’ll leave you two alone.” Still smiling, she shook her head and walked on towards the laundry room.

Danny looked back at his grandpa eagerly. “What happened to the goat man? Where did he go?”

“Not really sure. I kind of have a theory that if someone dies in a world other than their own, they go back to where they came from. Of course I have no proof of that and I don’t know if the person would just rematerialize the same way he disappeared or what.” Bill looked distant as he rolled this theory over in his mind for probably the hundredth time.

“So what did you do?” Danny asked.

“I didn’t tell a soul. I didn’t think anyone would believe me anyway, and I didn’t want to take the chance my mom and dad would take the knife away from me.”

“But did it work? Did you really find the fabric the man was talking about?”

Bill slowly nodded his head. “Yes I did Danny, yes I did, and it can be a very wondrous or a very dangerous thing.” A shadow moved over Bill’s face as he leaned forward. “Danny, what I’m going to tell you now isn’t meant to scare you, although it very well might, but it is only meant to warn you.” Bill continued his story.

***

It had been five years since Billy had first taken the knife from the man with the goat’s eyes. During that time, he had seen and done things only achievable in the dreams of the world's most adventurous explorers. None of his adventures ever seemed anything more than mildly dangerous, surly nothing that would make Billy swear to never cross over again. Nothing until today.

It was a beautiful spring Saturday in 1938. The air was fragrant with the smell of honeysuckle and the trees were alive with all sorts of birds that had made their way back up from warmer climates in the south. Billy had completed all of his chores and told his mom he was heading down to Mad River to try his luck on the large catfish that lurked under the overhangs and stumps.

“Now you be careful not to fall in, and watch out for snakes,” Billy’s mom yelled after him.

“Don’t worry mom. I can swim and snakes are no match for this.” Walking backwards, Billy patted the leather scabbard housing the large knife tied to his belt. His mom stood on the porch with her arms folded across her chest shaking her head. Billy turned away and picked up the pace as he headed down the gravel lane. The bamboo cane pole, propped on his shoulder like a rifle, bounced with each step while the small piece of cork dangling from the end swayed back and forth.

When he first acquired the knife, he nearly wore himself out trying to decide if he should show it to his mom and dad. He finally decided they would be less likely to take it from him if he showed them rather than them finding it under his mattress. As it turned out, it was a good decision. He had told them he found it along South River Road just lying in the tall grass, which was sort of the truth, and it looked like it might have been there a while. Neither his mom nor dad found the knife to be anything all that special, and when his dad examined the dull, almost rounded off, blade he declared the thing would struggle to cut hot butter and deemed it safe. His mom still didn’t like it, but when it came to things like guns and knives, dad was always the governing authority.

Billy reached the end of their drive and crossed State Route 101. On the other side, he climbed a rusted farm fence and headed across Jacobs’s field towards the tall cottonwoods lining Mad River.

When he got to the edge of the trees, he looked back towards his house. His dad had gone in to town to get a part for the tractor and his mom was probably in the backyard hanging up clothes, but it never hurt to check. He could only imagine what his parents would do if they saw him vanish right before their very eyes.

A slight breeze had picked up, causing the tall grasses along the fence to sway like flowing water. Somewhere, probably at Mr. & Mrs. Johnson’s by the sounds of it, a dog was barking.

Billy turned back to the trees and walked between their huge trunks. He could hear Mad River, which really wasn’t much more than a creek, bubbling along in front of him. As he moved towards the water, the rich soil of the ground between the trees slowly transitioned into the smooth colored stones of river rock. The smell of the air was damp, but pleasant like after an afternoon thunderstorm.

When he got through the trees, he stopped and looked down the banks in both directions. Sometimes some of the other kids in the neighboring farms would come to the river to fish or catch crawdads, but today Billy was alone. He had found doors here before, but for reasons unknown, they never seemed to stay in the same place. He lowered his left hand to the handle of the knife. He had learned the closer he got to a thin spot between worlds, the more the knife would vibrate. It would start out as a hum and work its way into the angry buzz of a hornet knocked out of its paper nest with a ball bat. It would also emit a blue glow that intensified as he got closer, and the blade would go from a dull struggle to cut hot butter edge to an edge so honed it cut paper like the sharpest of all scissors.

He pulled the knife out of the scabbard and looked at it. The blue glow radiated around the edges of the blade and the vibration ran through his hand and up his arm. Billy felt his heart rate increase and the hairs on his arms stood erect on gooseflesh. He took a few steps to the right, the hum lost a bit of its intensity, and the blue glow faded into nothing more than a shine. As he moved back to the left, the humming regained its vigor and after ten more steps, the blade glowed enough to make Billy look like an uneasy sprit walking the banks of Mad River.

He laid his fishing pole on the ground beside him and lifted up the knife. He pushed it forward until he felt the familiar springy resistance of the invisible fabric separating him from something that would haunt him for the next sixty years. He drove the blade forward and heard a soft popping sound as it went through the fabric. Slicing down, it sounded like a cotton sheet being ripped into thin strips.

Warm air blew from the opening, pushing the black curls of his hair off his forehead and causing him to squint. Being careful to leave the blade in the opening, he moved forward and stuck his head through.

On the other side, he saw a wide rolling field of tall brown grass. Scattered throughout the field were huge boulders that in contrast to the field, looked strangely out of place. They almost looked like they had fallen from the sky and stuck where they landed. Billy couldn’t see any shadows, but the brightness of the scene gave him the sense of mid afternoon.

Although he didn't see anyone, he thought he could hear the faint sounds of laughter and maybe someone hammering. Wind whispered through the dry grass and the soft singing of crickets made Billy think of the pasture next to his school. The sounds were friendly and somehow inviting. He pushed the knife down further enlarging the slit. Holding the knife in the opening with one hand, he pulled the fabric back with the other and stepped through.

When he got to the other side, he pulled the knife out of the opening allowing it to seam itself together. As it did, Billy heard a sort of vacuuming sound as the air blowing through from his side and the sound of Mad River from the other side was sealed off from each other, until it ended with a slight popping sound. No evidence of the door remained. Only the seemingly endless field of brown grasses and huge boulders standing like sentinels, guarding against unknown assailants.

Billy immediately looked for something to mark his way through. The world he was in seemed pleasant enough, but if he couldn’t find his way back out... well then he may never get back. He scanned the tall grass for a stick or loose stones he could pile up, but saw neither. The fact there were no sticks of any kind caused him to hesitate then take another, closer look around.

The place was void of any trees, or any other type vegetation as far as that goes, other than the dry brown grasses. Then he looked at one of the boulders a few yards to his right. The stone stood two foot higher than Billy and the way the grasses had grown up around it suggested it had been there for years. He frowned and he walked toward the stone. When he reached it, he ran a hand across the surface, feeling the indentations and irregularities. The stone felt hard and course, but somehow had the texture of something other than stone... something repulsive. Billy grimaced, snatched his hand back and absently wiped it across his white tee shirt.

The stone was a pale off-white color and had darker lines running through it like veins. He studied the lines and thought he could almost see some kind of pattern. He took several steps back and studied it again. This time the lines came into focus and he felt his breath catch in his throat like cotton. What he originally thought to be just random boulders, he could now see were huge fossils or maybe idols carved out of shapeless stone.

He could see the outline of huge sculpted arms ending in hands with long curled fingers. Massive rippling legs that bent backwards like a bird were cast below the torso and near the top of the stone, the semblance of a face seemed to peer out at him. Flat cold eyes, staring out of the stone, were positioned over an upturned nose and a mouth that was unnaturally round and looked to be full of sharp teeth. Billy felt gooseflesh crawl across his body, tightening his skin. He knew fossils and stones were nothing more than harmless inanimate objects, but were they modeled after something that wasn’t?

He looked to his left and saw another huge slab of stone only this one was lying across two smaller stones forming a sort of table... or altar. He suddenly found himself thinking maybe it would be better to just go back now. He had just put his hand down to feel the comforting vibration of the knife when he heard distant voices riding the wind from just over a small hill to his right.

He looked back towards the spot he had come in. Two of the stones, fossils, idols, stood about ten yards apart directly in front of his way back. The other stones, just calling them stones seemed to ease the constant tightening of Billy’s gut, were much further apart giving him a decent reference point. Again, he heard the sound of pounding hammers and more laughter and decided as long as he kept an eye on the two stones, he could take a quick look over the hill in the direction of the voices.

The grasses were knee high and swished harshly against his jeans. As he progressed, he found himself keeping as much distance as he could between him and the looming stones, all of which had the same twisted faces etched in their surface. He glanced back over his shoulder keeping tabs on the two stones marking his door. At this distance, the other stones seemed to be moving towards the two, but he knew that was only a trick of the eye.

When he reached the top, the wind whipped around his body, rippling his shirt in small snapping sounds. His hair blew around his head in a tussled fury. He looked down a long gentle slope ending in a cluster of wood buildings resembling the old western towns Billy had seen in the George Montgomery Letz westerns he and his dad watched on television.

The dirt street was alive with people moving about like ants at work on their mound. He spotted a small figure on the roof of what looked like a barn. He appeared to be nailing down a roof, which explained the hammering sounds. A group of kids was tossing something back and forth at the outskirts of the buildings, and the wind carried their laughter up to him like vivid memories.

The brown grasses rolled down the hill and stopped at the edge of town, but the stones continued through. He spotted several of the large shapes standing in random spots in and around the town. People wandered around them in the street, paying no more attention to them than they would a horse, if there were any. That’s when Billy registered there were no animals. Not even the sound of a dog barking. Maybe it should have only seemed peculiar or unnatural, but it was more than that. It was somehow wrong, somehow sinister. Billy felt the hair on the back of his neck standing up in waves.

He tried to make a habit of trusting his feelings, and right now, they were telling him to get back to the door and get out. He turned to leave when he noticed something change on the horizon beyond the town. It was turning dark.

It wasn’t the gradual change from afternoon to evening, it was more like a huge shadow rising up and rolling across the ground, totally consuming all light in its path. The people in the town suddenly starting running in all directions. Screams replaced laughter, and the man working on the roof slid down to the edge and jumped off landing awkwardly on the ground in a puff of dust. He saw women with long flowing dresses running towards the children, gathering them up, and running back towards the buildings.

As the shadow moved, it increased in size and speed. It was now rushing across the landscape towards the town like a black tidal wave. Billy felt panic rising in his throat like hot bile. He turned and ran towards the two stones marking his door. The wind pushed at his back like a giant hand forcing him down the hill. The stones he passed all seemed to be grinning at him as if they were aware of what was happening.

A shadow that stretched as far as he could see raced past him with amazing speed. Then the screams from the town abruptly stopped as if they were somehow cut off from existence. The sudden silence was even more disquieting than the screams and Billy felt every muscle in his body tighten like strings on a guitar twisted to snapping point.

Still a hundred yards from the door, he was suddenly enveloped by a darkness so total and so complete he thought he had somehow been struck blind. He instantly had the sensation he had been closed into a room completely sealed off from everything around him. The wind ceased as abruptly as the screams from the town’s people, the whispering of the dry grass against his jeans as he moved like a dull, almost dead sound.

Billy stopped moving. The total darkness was disorienting, soaking into his soul like black poison. The thudding of his heart pounded in his ears. He raised his hands and waved them blindly in front of him. He took a step in what he hoped was the right direction. From his left, he heard something crack. A sound that reminded him of when he and his uncle had been ice-skating on the pond behind his house and a crack shot across the pond in jagged angles. It was day where the air hung as frozen and lifeless as the trees surrounding the pond transforming the sound into that of a gunshot.

Billy heard more cracking sounds from all around him. He began to move again, praying he was going in the right direction. He sensed something moving on his right and he heard the grasses rustling as something moved through them. He moved faster, hands outstretched. The sensation of movement felt stronger, intensifying the swishing sounds of things moving through the grass.

Something brushed Billy’s arm and the scream that escaped his throat seemed to be swallowed by the black air. He whirled around, his eyes wide and unseeing. Something behind him made a sort of liquid clicking sound like wet bones or snapping teeth.

“Who’s there?” Billy yelled. His shout fell as flat as his scream, seeming to be snatched from his mouth the instant it left his lips. More clicking sounds from his right this time.

“Who’s there?” Billy yelled again, spinning to his right. A vibration ran up the side of Billy’s leg and he jumped back swinging his hands wildly. The vibration continued and he recognized it as the knife. Cursing himself for not remembering it before, he grabbed it with his right hand and pulled it from its scabbard.

As soon as it was out of its leather encasement, Billy saw a faint blue glow crawling along the dull edge of the blade like an electric flame. He knew he must be near the door. The light from the blade barely bit into the meat of the darkness doing little more than illuminating his hand and perhaps a foot around it. Something moved behind him so close he felt the fabric of his shirt flutter.

He swung the knife around, and for a terrified instant, he thought he saw something glittering in the darkness, then it was gone. Whatever was out there was toying with him. There was no doubt of that, and it would only be a matter of time before the fun and games were over and it would be time to get down to whatever business was to be transacted. Squinting, he began to move in the direction he thought the door was. Instantly the blue rim of the blade began to fade along with the vibration. He quickly turned a half a turn and began moving again. The blue edge returned and he felt the comforting buzz in his hand.

The grass whispered all around him and he could feel the heavy thumping of something pounding the ground. As he moved, he made slight adjustments to increase the vibration and glow of the blade. He took another six steps, a dozen, two dozen. The blade now bright enough, he could see the outline of the grass as he moved through it. Twice he saw something lurking at the edge of the blue glow that then disappeared soundlessly away.

After what seemed like a mile, Billy recognized the intensity of the vibration enough to know he had to be right on top of the door in spite of the knife’s muted glow. He extended the knife and felt his guts tighten into a knot. A weak choking noise puffed from his throat as he tried to scream. A face moved into the blue glow of the blade. A face more evil than the creatures that waited in Billy’s closet and under his bed for him to fall asleep. A face more hideous than any of the monsters that chased him down the tangled paths of his worst nightmares. A face that Billy recognized as the face of the huge stone idols that stared lifeless at him only minutes ago.

The hand holding the knife began to shake, shadows danced across the things face in grotesque flashes. Then, something slapped the knife from Billy’s hand and the creature’s grinning face was concealed in the darkness.

“No!” Billy screamed and looked around wildly, searching for the knife. Something grabbed his shirt from behind and lifted him off the ground. His feet swung helplessly below him and he felt something sharp digging into his back. The liquid clicking sounds were all around him and fear boiled up in him in hot bubbling waves. He sensed the feeling of being thrown before thumping to the ground. He rolled, yelling at the pain running across his back like fire.

Something gripped his ankle, nearly crushing the bone, and began pulling him. Billy screamed again as the dry grass cut into his torn back. He could hear hungry slobbering breath coming from everywhere at once as the things converged, and he knew he was going to die. They were done playing and were no doubt preparing to rip the soft part of his belly open with their greedy clicking teeth and pull his intestines out in long looping strings. Billy’s screams were constant and nearing insanity. He grabbed at the grass in an attempt to pull free, yanking it out in large clumps.

Then, with a revelation of horror so pure that Billy’s mind could barely grasp it, he understood where they were taking him. The thought that he was to be sacrificed to something even more evil than the creatures around him filled him with eternal despair. “Oh God no! Help me. Please help-” Tears streamed from his unseeing eyes in salty rivers. As he pulled out another clump of grass, he saw the blue glow of the knife partially buried in the dry vegetation. Hope sprang into his belly like cold water. He groped for it, hitting the handle, but missed. The thing continued to pull him through the grass and out of reach of the knife. In one twisting wrench, Billy rolled to his stomach and kicked at the hand gripping his ankle. When he did, he felt its grip loosen and he yanked free. He stretched out and grabbed the knife just as the thing grabbed his ankle again, sending a fresh wave of burning pain up his leg.

“Let go of me you son of a bitch!” Billy shouted. He sat up and swung the knife toward his feet. As the knife cut through the arm of the thing holding his ankle, he was reminded of cutting through a thick steak at Sunday dinner. It let out a hideous howl of pain and rage. He heard the others moving in and he slashed the knife in wild arcs. More sickening cutting sounds and howls followed. He jumped to his feet, nearly falling from the pain in his ankle.

He swung the knife again and heard a wet popping sound followed by another screech of pain. The blade’s blue light left sharp afterimages on Billy’s eyes. Again, he swung the knife and heard something rip. Blinding light flashed out from the hole he had cut between this world and his. The contrasting brightness nearly blinded him and he had to squint against its glare. The creatures, hundreds of them by the look, retreated from the light, screaming and shielding their faces with long muscular arms.

Then the light rapidly faded and the creatures lowered their arms. Billy jerked around to see the opening was no more than a couple of inches wide and was sealing itself shut. He shot the knife forward and ripped it downward. Light again poured into the dark world. Keeping the knife in the opening, Billy dove through.

He landed on the cool wet stones of the riverbank, rolled over and scrambled backwards. Howls and screams drifted from the closing black slit like fading nightmares.

***

It had been six years from the day Dan Oswalt heard his grandpa tell him the story of the knife and two years since Bill Oswalt had succumbed to cancer and went on to another world for the first time without the aid of his knife. Dan looked down at the blade. The vibration felt strong and he knew he had found another door. He pulled it from the strange leather scabbard and gazed at the blade’s blue glow.

He looked around. He knew he wouldn’t see anyone on the old dirt lane that led back to the gravel pit. Kelly Sand and Gravel had been closed for years, but it never hurt to be careful. Grandpa Oswalt had done one serious job of instilling the sense of caution in him. Since the time of the story, Danny only peered through the openings he created between worlds regardless of how safe it seemed, but today was different. It was time to move on.

He held the knife out until he felt the familiar plastic resistance of the door. He applied pressure and felt, as much as heard, the pop of the blade through the membrane between worlds. He brought the knife down and felt warm air blow through, the smell of salt air immediately reminding him of the time he spent last summer on Destin Beach. The call of seagulls pulled the memory together, drawing a smile of remembrance on Dan’s face.

He held the knife down and looked through the opening over a vast expanse of water. It was a deep navy blue. Bluer than any water he had ever seen. The foam rolling on the waves and up the sand was pure white and looked like cotton. The powder soft sand was reddish brown in color and was peppered with fluorescent colored shells adorned with intricate designs. Some shells were half buried in the wet sand, while others rolled out with the retreating water and tumbled back in as the next wave pushed towards the shore.

Dan smiled. He inhaled the inviting air that blew back his thick black hair then stepped through. As the door between worlds closed, the cries of gulls transitioned to the melodious singing of grasshoppers, but before the opening sealed shut with the pneumatic thump of hospital doors, a voice that may or may not have been human could just be heard riding the warm salt air like the distant scream of a restless sprit residing in the unseen corners of a translucent world.


Mark Schmunk is a new writer who has recently been successful with 'Head Investigation', one of the stories featured in an upcoming anthology through the writing community Edit Red. He writes in various genres, but is known mostly for his horror and science fiction pieces. Residing in Ohio, US with his wife and two children, Mark maintains a career in real estate development.

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