Monday, November 9, 2009

The Door, by Jon VanZile

They went to the old city every morning to steal bread, running over cobbled streets and past the tilting, ancient buildings.

They were about the same height, and looked like they might have been siblings—but for the way the boy looked at the girl. He was obviously in love with her. She was 18 months older than he, and her brown hair was long, kinked and matted. They wore rags, and his feet and legs were covered in sores from the vermin that infested the low-lying city.

"Hey!" she said, reaching for Flynn as he turned abruptly away from her and headed down a side alley. "Where are you going?"

But Flynn ignored her and kept pattering toward the door.

"Flynn!" she hissed. "C'mon! We've got to go!"

But in a moment, Flynn was standing before the door. Again. The alley sloped down here and the stones were thick with moss and algae from the water—and other, less pleasant things—that seeped from the old buildings.

He stood before the door, staring at it hard. He was poised on the balls of his feet.

Sophie came up behind him, tugging on his arm to pull him away. "C'mon! Let's go."

He glanced at her, and his eyes were shining. "I'm gonna open it."

"No!" she said, her brows creased. "What is your deal with this stupid door? Can't you just let it go?"

"There's something there. I can feel it. Maybe we'll find something for Kyle. Maybe it's a ... you know."

"So what if it is?" she said. "Who cares?! Just leave it alone!"

"What? You scared?" Flynn said, teasing lightly.

She was holding his arm now, protectively, pulling him back and closer to her. "C'mon, Flynn, can't you smell it? Please, let's just go."

Flynn flared his nostrils and tasted the air pouring from a hole in the old door. It smelled sulfurous and richly organic, like a just-popped match and swamp mud. "Yeah," he said. "I smell it."

"So what else do you need to know? Isn't that enough?"

"You know, I don't get you," Flynn said, turning on her again. "You'll steal anything that's not nailed down, but you're too scared to open a stupid door? What's the big deal?"

"Because I don't believe in getting killed ... or worse ... over nothing. If there was food behind the door, I'd think about it. But there isn't. And—"

But Flynn had shaken her off and was nearing the door. He reached out slowly and put his hand on the old latch. It was cold, and the smell here was stronger. He figured the door opened into a tunnel, or maybe stairs leading down, under the city. It was an old city, built two thousand years ago over a series of natural catacombs in the rock below. But no one went into the catacombs. Even the street kids, who weren't afraid of anything, shied away from the various doors and holes and sluice gates leading down. The city was full of stories.

Behind him, Sophie was watching with terror on her face. "Flynn," she tried again, "please. I've seen what they can do."

He turned around sharply. "So have I."

Sophie bit off her next words and hunched inward under his withering gaze. A dragon had taken his father—how could she have forgotten that?

"I'm sorry. You know I—"

"Are you gonna leave me?" Flynn said. "If I go in, will you go with me?"

Sophie nodded through the tears that sprang into her eyes. "You know I would never leave you," she said. "You know I wouldn't. But—"

The alley echoed with a sharp crack as Flynn suddenly wrenched the clasp open and pushed against the thick, spongy wood. At first, the door wouldn't budge, but then it gave way and fell inward with a crash. A rush of air came at him from the blackness, and as he recoiled from the stink he saw that he had been right: there were slick stairs leading down into blackness.

He turned around, his eyes shining. "C'mon," he said. "I'm not afraid."

Sophie came forward slowly to stand next to him. "Why do you have to do this?" She was barely whispering.

Flynn didn't answer because the answer would have been too hard for him to put into words. He needed to see one again, yes, but mostly he wanted to test himself against his fear. And he wanted to see if what they were saying about him was true, that he had a rare gift.

The last thing he did before stepping into the darkness of the first step was reach out and take her hand.


Erica Orloff said...

I really liked this . . . I liked the darkness of what is behind the door.

I think for me, I didn't like ever leaving the scene (hence the omniscient "it was obvious he loved her"--didn't like that because you could SHOW it). I also didn't need the brief foray into her POV. This is all about Flynn's tension.

GREAT use of sensory imagery!

Melanie Avila said...

I'd love to know what happens next! You've painted a vivid image of their world -- I can really see and smell what they encounter. (as Erica said, great use of sensory imagery.)

I have a couple nitpicks, but only minor. 1st - there are a couple times you use was in a way that while I'm not sure if it's passive, it pulled me out of the story. She was barely whispering. I felt like that could be described differently.

2nd - I'm hyper-sensitive to eyes because that was my crutch in my first novel. There are a lot of references to shining eyes, etc, and I feel like you could expand the actions in other ways to show their emotion.

That said, I really like this. I love that your door is as creepy as mine.

LurkerMonkey said...


Yeah, I know, I know. I knew as soon as I did it ("the boy was obviously in love with her") that I had broken POV. Ultimately, I left it in because it helped orient me in the characters. This is the first time I've actually written Sophie on paper, and she figures in prominently in the WIP. But you're right.

Actually, to a degree that surprised me, I felt like it didn't work like I wanted because it is obviously part of a larger narrative. Ideally, a short should have a beginning, middle and end. This was more scene and less story than I'm comfortable with. But it was nice to write a scene between characters who are on my mind so much, so I stuck with it.

LurkerMonkey said...


Thanks! Like with Erica, I think you're right on both counts. Passive voice and overuse of "eyes." Sloppy editing, monkey. Sloppy.

What happens next can only be bad :)

I told Erica this already, but these are two characters from my WIP. This scene and this city don't appear in the real book -- I wrote an original scene based on the prompt, a scene that could only occur much further along in the story than I currently am. But I wanted some "practice" working with my characters.

Natasha Fondren said...

Aw man! Aw man. I want to read more! You totally sucked me in, 100%. I'm just so bummed it ended!

I noticed that while I was reading--and I'm not saying this is a flaw at all, because I'm wondering if it's avoidable or unavoidable--I had a big mental jerk when you mentioned "dragon," and I had to re-orient myself and re-frame the story as a fantasy.

I only mention this because I've been struggling with this lately, and am wondering if there is a way to avoid causing the reader to have to go through that, or not. (The cover of a book might be all that's necessary, LOL!) I try to put a hint of what a story will be, at least, in the first paragraph, but there's a lot to put in the first few sentences. I'm not sure whether or not I'm worrying overmuch.

E. Flanigan said...

Lurker, I think it's a wise idea to take characters you're working with and place them in a new setting, just to give yourself the chance to interact with them. It can only feed you.

This scene felt fully fleshed out to me, very real despite the fantasy elements. I'm not a fantasy reader, so Real with a capital 'R' is important to me. I enjoyed it completely and was left wanting to read more. (Good thing, considering!!)

I can't add much more to the wisdom previously offered up by others .... all good points.

Suffice it to say, the door was creepy-looking, and your piece was equally creepy. I could smell that dragon! Flynn should listen to Sophie and turn back ....

Jude Hardin said...

Nice scene, Jon. I wanted to write something about the doors, but I had some other things going on last week.

I agree with the others regarding some editing being needed in places.

A rush of air came at him from the blackness, and as he recoiled from the stink he saw that he had been right: there were slick stairs leading down into blackness.

The use of the word "blackness" twice in such close proximity is the main problem with this one, I think.

I don't read this sort of fantasy, but you sure had me wanting to know what was behind those doors!

LurkerMonkey said...


Thanks! I wondered about the use of the word dragon here, too, knowing it was a bomb dropped into the story. But ... then it went back to my practicing again. This is a "fake" scene between two characters in a book I'm working on, so by this point in the story, the existence of dragons would be normal.

LurkerMonkey said...



LurkerMonkey said...


I'm usually kind of a word hound ... so none of the picayune stuff would have made it through a comprehensive edit.

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