Saturday, December 25, 2010

Door 25

Jack put an arm out and moved Clarice away from her father. He had a number of reasons he didn't want to be too close to Damien, but the obvious one was he was afraid of him.

"We just want you to stop sending your daughters back in time. That's all! Why can't you do that?" Jack pleaded.

"You can be poor if you want. I don't want to be."

"Then why don't you go back yourself?" Jack asked. "Why do you send your daughters back? If it's so important for you to be rich, then you go back and get sick!"

"I'll send them back whenever I feel like it. And I'll send them back again as soon as I get rid of you," Damien said, walking toward Jack. "I'm done talking with you."

Jack nodded. "I'm done talking to you, too."

Jack stared past Damien's shoulder and shook his head sadly. Damien spun around, thinking Clarice was sneaking up on him.

Jeb Guthrie stood directly behind Damien. He tossed the second Doorway on top of the first one. "Time to go, big guy," Jeb said.

He flashed Jack a sad smile with his bright, white teeth, then griped Damien in a bear hug.

And just like that, they were gone.

Clarice stared at Jack from behind the Christmas tree, her eyes wet and shining in the glow from the Christmas lights. "Where did they go?"

Jack opened up the 25th and last door on the Doorway. He pulled out a folded piece of paper. He unfolded it and flattened it out, revealing a brightly colored illustration of a fantastical alien world.

"Utopia," Jack said.


Clarice had been in state of shock. Or maybe she was just tired - it was almost one in the morning, after all.

Either way, Jack sent her to go sleep with her sisters. Told her that he'd be there in the morning and they could discuss, well, the future.

She stumbled off to bed and Jack turned back to the Doorways. He had one more trip to make.


Clarice woke up, squinting in the bright sunlight. She heard Emma and Nat laughing, but they weren't in the bed. She wandered into the kitchen and found her sisters on the floor, wrapping paper and ribbon scattered around them, playing with new dolls. They giggled and laughed, showing each other their new toys. Clarice couldn't remember her sisters ever waking up on Christmas morning and opening presents like a normal family.

"Merry Christmas," Mary said, standing at the stove. She held up the pan. "How would you like an omelet?"

Jack sat at the table, shoveling food into his mouth. "They're pretty good."

"Sure," Clarice said, sitting down. She grinned at Jack, confused.

Jack shrugged. "This is Mary. Jeb's sister. She thought she'd come by and help out for a while. Keep an eye on you guys."

"Thank you," Clarice said.

"Sure. I always wanted to give that Doorway a try," Mary said. "Works alright."

"Oh!" Jack said, standing up quickly. "I just remembered. I've got a gift for you, too."


Jack and Clarice sat on the floor of the living room, under the Christmas tree. Jack held a small gift, wrapped poorly, with no ribbon or bow.

"Sorry about the wrapping," Jack said. "I'm pretty bad at it. And I was sort of in a hurry."

"Jack, I don't know what to say. You've done so much for us already. You've risked a lot to help us."

He handed Clarice the gift. "Just open it already."

Clarice leaned over and hugged Jack tightly. She leaned back and ripped open the paper, exposing a tan book with a picture of a winged sphinx on the cover.

"What is it?" Clarice asked.

"The Time Machine by H.G. Wells," Jack said. "We need to do a little reading. Maybe take some notes. Get some new ideas."

"What for?"

"To figure out how to get you well. You're not dying on me," Jack said. "No way."

Clarice smiled and opened the book. "We better get to work,"

"Yeah, we better."

Friday, December 24, 2010

Door 24

Jack bounced out from behind the Christmas tree and jumped onto his Grandson’s back. He kicked out at the Doorway, hoping to dislodge it, but Damien was too strong.

Jack yelled at Clarice to help him, but she cowered behind the tree. Their carefully rehearsed plan was breaking apart already.

As Damien swung Jack around, trying to fling him off his back, Jack caught a glimpse of Clarice. She was terrified. Her father still intimidated her to a state of fear; even after all he had put her through.

Damien grunted in frustration and ran backwards, slamming Jack into the wall. Jack was dazed, but held on. Damien slammed him into the wall again. And again. Jack lost his grip around Damien’s neck and slumped down the wall, with his body splayed against the floor and his head wedged at a painful angle against the wall.

“I told you to stay in your own time,” Damien said. “Why didn’t you listen to me? You could have ruined everything!”

“You’re making them sick,” Jack said, rubbing the back of his head. “They’re your own daughters.”

Clarice hid on the other side of the tree, searching by her feet to find something to throw at her father. She knew Jack would never be able to handle Damien on his own. And she had already let Jack down once.

“We would have been done by now if it wasn’t for you,” Damien screamed. “It’s your fault they’re still having to travel!”

Jack stood up and faced off against his grandson. Jack was about a foot shorter and 100 pounds lighter, but he walked directly in front of Damien.

“You can lie to yourself, but I know you better than that,” Jack said. “You’ll never be satisfied with what you have. You’re too greedy. You’ll just keep sending them until they’re too sick to travel. Or until they’re dead.”

“No. He won’t,” Clarice said. She reared back and threw an antique snow globe from the mantle beside the Christmas tree. It was heavy; made with a metal base and a real glass globe. The snow globe smashed into her father’s wrist and Damien dropped the charred Doorway. It landed with a loud thud to the floor.

The three formed a rough circle around the wooden calendar, bathed in the glow of the Christmas lights from the tree.

Jack knew this was his last chance. It was almost Christmas. He had to get the Doorway back home.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Door 23

"Well, how many chances do you want to give him?" Jack asked. "It seems like he's already had plenty of opportunities to stop."

"I know," Clarice said.

"Has he stopped sending Nat and Emma back since I was here?"


Jack held his hands up. He wasn't going to decide for her, but he sure wasn't going to defend Damien either.

Clarice and Jack were sitting side by side on the floor of her bedroom, leaning against a wall. They both kept a watch on the closed bedroom door, afraid that Damien might somehow sense that Jack was there, but the apartment was dark and quiet.

They had been talking for nearly an hour, going over different thoughts, different ideas and plans, different ways to stop Damien from hurting Nat and Emma.

There were no good choices. And there were definitely no easy choices.

"He's made the decision for us," Jack said softly. "He chose money over being a father. And not just once - he's done it over and over again."

"I know."

"Emma and Nat can't stop him. They can't stand up to him. We have to stand up to him."

Clarice put her face in her hands, crying softly.

"It can't wait until next December," Jack said. "Damien might try to move you guys, or hide you, or something worse."

"You can say it, Jack," Clarice said. "We can't wait until next year because I might not be around, right?"

Jack smiled sadly. "We'll figure something out."

Clarice shook her head. "No, you're right. But we have to give him one more chance."

Jack nodded. "One last chance."


Clarice and Jack stood outside her apartment building. They were both in shorts and t-shirts, but it was still sticky-hot and miserable, even though it was just after two in the morning.

"I've got to do a couple things, to make sure we're ready," Jack said. "You just rest up. When I get back, we'll do it just like we planned. And we can be done with this. Once and for all."

"When will you be back?"

"Christmas Eve," Jack said. "Just before midnight."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Door 22

"Hi, Mary," Jack said. "Do you remember me? My name-"

"Did you find Jeb?" Mary asked.

Jack nodded. "Yeah, I found-"

"Get in here. You're letting all the warm air out."


Jack sat across from Mary, warming his hands on a cup of coffee. He hadn't taken a drink yet and had no plans to do so. Mary hung her head across from him. She looked to be in physical pain.

"I don't want to ask about him. I don't want to know," Mary said. "If I was younger. Stronger. I'd just tell you to go back out the door and go to my grave mad. But I ain't young. I'm old."

Jack didn't know how to respond to that.

"Did he say he was sorry?" Mary asked.

"Yes, he did."

"What happened to Matthew?"

Jack shrugged. "It's hard to explain-"

"Don't act like I'm some idiot," Mary said. "Were they traveling through time?"


"Matt killed himself by doing something stupid, didn't he?" Mary didn't wait for an answer. "He never thought about the consequences of the things he did. Neither of them did."

Jack stared into his coffee cup. The surface of the coffee vibrated in his hands, sending tiny waves back and forth across the cup, crashing into each other, merging and fanning out in other directions.

"I hated both of them," Mary said. "I hated them for excluding me from what they were doing. I hated them for treating me like a little girl. I hated Matt for dying - hated him for leaving me alone."

"They didn't know," Jack said.

"But you know, don't you? Did you throw that damn calendar away?"

"Not yet," Jack said. "There are some other people in trouble because of the calendar, the Doorway. Three girls."

"Tell me," Mary said.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Door 21

"Your Mom thinks you're a cutter," Dr. Colden said. "Are you a cutter?"

"Of course not," Jack said. "Janet's watching too many Lifetime movies during the day. She needs to get a job."

Dr. Colden nodded. "Probably. I told her most cutters are depressed young women, not boys. Boys usually get their self-harm kicks in other ways. Like beating their head against a wall or something."

Dr. Colden pulled a stitch tight on Jack's forehead.


"Sorry about that," Dr. Colden said. "So...are you depressed?"


"More so than usual?"


"I figured."

Dr. Colden was Jack's family doctor. As far as Jack could remember, he had never seen another doctor in his life. Dr. Colden was probably in his forties, although he had hair that was much too long for a doctor and looked about 25. Dr. Colden was clearly the smartest adult Jack had ever known, yet Jack found it easy to talk to him.

"I told Janet, you know, your Mother, that most cutters make small, quick cuts with razor blades anyway," Dr. Colden said, continuing to stitch up Jack's forehead. "Not like this huge six-inch gash you've got on your arm. Tell me one more time how that happened."

"I was running and looking behind me, not paying attention to where I was going, and I ran right into a tree branch-"

"Yeah, that sounds right."

"And the branch knocked me down and my arm hit something sharp on the ground-"

"Yeah, that sounds wrong. That's the part I'm having trouble with."

Dr. Colden snipped off the thread and nodded at his work. He sat down on his stool and spun around twice, then stopped and pointed at Jack.

"Do you know that people lie to me all day long, Jack? Except for maybe a parole officer or a priest, I probably hear more lies than anyone else around."

Jack nodded.

"I don't think you got that cut by falling on the ground, Jack. The branch? I guess I believe that, it looks about right, but not the arm. Someone cut your arm, Jack, and you need to know that I know that."

Jack nodded again, unable to meet Dr. Colden's eyes.

"I don't think it was either of your parents because I've known them for a long time and I don't think they have it in them."

"It wasn't my parents," Jack said quietly.

"You going to tell me who?"

Jack shook his head.

"How old are you, Jack?"

"Almost 13."

"I'm going to say it's a girl, then. Wouldn't be the weirdest thing I've ever seen. Or if it's not actually a girl, then it's because of a girl. Am I right?"


"Sure. Why wouldn't it be? Hey, we all have girl troubles, right? And Jack, I'd love to say to you, being all of 'almost 13,' that this girl just isn't worth it. Isn't worth getting hurt over. That you'll be lucky to remember her in a month, or six months, or a year. But you know what?" Dr. Colden said.


"I'm not going to say that. It would be condescending of me. Because let's face it, I could, and probably should, say those exact words to men that come in here and lie to me every day. Men that are in their 40's and 50's and even their 60's. But I don't. So why should I say it to you?"

Dr. Colden scooted his stool up closer to Jack. He caught Jack's gaze and didn't let him look away.

"But I will say this," Dr. Colden said quietly. "You need to ask yourself if this particular girl is worth it. Is she worth you getting hurt? Ask yourself that question and answer it honestly, Jack. Then do what you need to do."

Dr. Colden stood up and slapped Jack on the back, then left the room.

And Jack sat, and thought about what he needed to do.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Door 20

Jack ran.

He ran across a field and through a ditch, scaring up a batch of ducks. He sprinted across a road and into a neighborhood he didn't recognize. He cut across a backyard and flew over a playground at a school he didn't know. He struggled over a shaky, wood slat fence and turned his ankle on a overgrown stump.

Jack kept looking behind him, his left arm flailing to keep balance with the weight from the Doorway he held in his right hand.

There was no way anyone could have been following him. He didn't even know where he was. He wasn't sure when he was.

It was the first time Jack had ever tried to jump in time using Jeb's advice. There was simply no way Damien could know where he was. There was no possible way Damien could have followed him.

He ran anyway.

Lungs burning, Jack risked another look behind him, wondering if he could slow down soon.

Jack turned back around just in time to see the branch from a moss-covered, old apple tree appear in front of his face. It took him just above the eyebrow, knocking him to his knees.

Jack tried to get back to his feet, but his legs wouldn't work right. He fell atop the Doorway and stayed mostly on the right side of consciousness.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Door 19

Damien was big.

In the same way that Jack was small, Damien was big. Sometimes you don't need a lot of qualifiers - Damien was just big.

Jack stared up at him, mouth open. He didn't know what to say, didn't know what to do.

"Cat got your tongue, Grandpa Jack," Damien said. He turned to Clarice. "Get back in your room. Now."

Clarice shivered like she had a sudden chill, but didn't move.

"Now!" Damien screamed.

Clarice jumped, then slowly backed out of the room until she was out of Damien's sight. She stayed in the hall though, staring at Jack. She shook her head toward him. Then she did it again.

Jack had absolutely no idea what she was trying to tell him.

"Why did you come back here?" Damien asked. "What could she possibly have said to you to make you want to do something so stupid?"

"She told me how you're hurting her. And how you're hurting her sisters."

"Why do you care?"

"It's my fault. I should have gotten rid of that thing a long time ago," Jack said.

"I'm glad you didn't. The Doorway opens up so many possibilities."

Jack backed up toward the corner of the bedroom. A bathroom was on his right. And the Doorways were on his left. He stopped directly between the two.

"You're not using it for anything worthwhile. You're just using it to make money," Jack said.

Damien nodded. "Sounds worthwhile to me."

Jack glanced at the bathroom. Not exactly a superhero-type move to hide in a bathroom, but it would probably have a lock on the door. Maybe he could figure something out after he got in there. Like how to escape.

But how could he leave without a Doorway?

"Don't you even care that you're hurting them?" Jack asked.

"It's not easy to see it happen, I'll admit," Damien said. "I wish I could figure out a way to stop them from getting sick."

Jack laughed, but it came out as a strangled hiccup. "How about not sending them back?"

Damien shook his head. "No. That's not an option. Not yet."

Jack slipped a hand into his pants pocket and gripped the screwdriver. "I'm giving you an opportunity to do the right thing."

"And if I don't take the opportunity?"

Jack pulled the screwdriver from his pocket and pointed it at Damien.

"Really?" Damien said. "The melodrama wasn't enough? Now we're sliding into violence as well?"

"I'm taking my Doorway and leaving." Jack kept the screwdriver pointed at Damien, but his hand was visably shaking. "You can keep yours. For now."

Jack bent down and grabbed the closest Doorway with his left hand. When he looked back up, Damien was already across the room, reaching for him. He was much faster than Jack had believed possible.

Jack thrust the screwdriver out, aiming for Damien's arm. Damien dodged it easily and bent Jack's wrist back sharply, forcing him to drop the screwdriver. He bent Jack's wrist back even more, bringing Jack to his knees in pain.

"Stop..." Jack wheezed.

"You think you can come into my house and threaten me?" Damien said, his face twisting in anger. "You think you know more about the Doorway than I do just because you found it first? You think you get to be the moral guide for me?"

Damien picked the screwdriver up from the floor and held it in front of Jack's face. "You're not going to be my guide for anything!"

Twisting Jack's hand back until his wrist turned white from the pressure, Damien brought the screwdriver point to Jack's wrist and slowly pressed it down until a drop of blood appeared. Then he slid it down the inside of Jack's arm, drawing blood the whole way.

Jack screamed.

Clarice ran from the hall and jumped onto her Father's back. She pounded on him with both fists, over and over, on his head and shoulders. She was too weak to hurt him, but she did distract him for a moment and cause him to release Jack's arm.

Damien spun around and threw Clarice off him and back into the hall. Jack grabbed the Doorway and scrambled on his back, like a crab, toward the bathroom. Damien lunged out and caught him by the foot, twisting Jack's ankle.

"You're not going anywhere with that," Damien said.

Jack kicked out with his right foot, catching Damien in the face, again and again. "Yes. I. Am!" Jack yelled.

He finally caught Damien's nose solidly with his heel. Damien howled and sat up, clutching his nose with both hands.

Jack scrambled to his feet and shot into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.

Damien hit the door with all his weight, but the door wasn't even locked. It flew open, slamming into the wall behind it.

It didn't matter.

Jack was gone.