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.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Door 18

They had a plan.

Of sorts.

Clarice had left Jack sitting on his bed. She told him she'd be back that night, very late again, after Damien was asleep. They'd jump to the future, grab the two Doorways - yes, they were both there - and Jack would come back with both of them. He'd put them where they'd never be found, by Damien or anyone else. It didn't matter if Jack couldn't destroy them. He'd bury them 100 feet in the ground if he had to.

The basic plan sounded great to Jack.

But even he could see it was a little light on detail.


It was a long, long day.

Clarice had told him to get some sleep. She said he'd have to be rested and ready for their trip that night.

Whatever. There was no way Jack could sleep. Or rest. Or even relax.

It was Saturday, which made it even worse. No school to distract him. Just a long day of avoiding his Dad, ignoring Janet, and trying to not think about what he had to do later that night.

Jack wandered out to the garage. Not exactly a place to revisit old triumphs, but he felt like he needed to take something along as a weapon. He had every intention of getting in and out of there without ever seeing Damien, but, well, things don't always work out as planned. He had never been a Boy Scout, but he was fully behind the "always be prepared" motto.

He thought about the torch and immediately dismissed it. What would he do - ask Damien to wait for a second while he lit it? He looked over the claw hammer for a moment, but it just seemed too grisly somehow. He didn't think he could bring himself to hit someone with it, even if he had to. He settled on a short, flathead screwdriver. He could stab with it and he could use it as a knife; it was brand new and quite sharp.

Jack slipped the screwdriver into his pants pocket and prayed he'd never have to use it.


The television was showing something - Jack couldn't really focus on what. It was probably funny because Janet was laughing. Jack excused himself. Said he was tired and was going to go to bed.

It was 7:15.

His Dad watched him all the way up the stairs, but didn't say anything.


Jack sat on the bed, fully dressed with light pants and a t-shirt and his favorite Nikes.

He had been waiting for over six hours now. He had tried to sleep for the first two or three hours and then gave it up as hopeless.

So he just sat, waiting for Clarice.


She arrived at about 1:30 in the morning. Jack's eyes were slits, he was really having to work to keep them open. He had them closed for a moment, then when he opened them again, she was standing in front of him.

"Clarice!" Jack said. "I was afraid-"

Clarice fell to her knees and retched.

"What's wrong?" Jack said, kneeling next to her.

"Sick," Clarice moaned. "We've got to get back...before I pass out."

She grabbed Jack with both arms, hugging him tight.

And they were gone.


Jack was afraid to move.

It was pitch black and he had no idea where he was. Clarice still had one arm around him and he could hear her breathing, but he didn't know if he should talk. What if Damien heard him?

"It's OK," Clarice gasped. "We're in my room. Let me catch my breath."

Jack sat up and let his eyes adjust to the gloom. There was a tiny bit of light coming through the window, but it was very dark.

"Are you all right?" Jack whispered.

"I will be. I can't go back through again. We need to get the Doorways and you need to get them back."

Jack swallowed. Tried to anyway, his mouth was really dry. It was hot there, even in the middle of the night.

And he was scared.

"He's got the Doorways right beside his bed," Clarice said. "Don't worry, he's a heavy sleeper. We'll go in and get them, quietly, bring them back to my room, then you can get back."

Jack nodded. He didn't want to talk, because everything he wanted to say was an excuse to not go through with it.

Clarice stood up walked out of her room. Jack followed.

They slid down a narrow hall, keeping against the wall, where the floor was less likely to creak. The apartment was terrifyingly quiet and every step they took sounded loud and obvious.

Clarice stopped at a door at the end of the hallway and whispered into Jack's ear, "They're in here. On the left side of the bed. I'll grab one and hand it to you. Then I'll grab the other and keep it. We'll walk right back out and head to my room. OK?"

Jack took a shallow breath. "Yeah."

Clarice opened the door and peeked in. She moved into the room and Jack stayed right behind her.

The voice came from behind them.

"You back-stabbing little traitor," the voice said softly. "I knew you'd do something stupid like this."

The lights flashed on and Jack squinted against the sudden brightness. He saw a huge, dark form tower over him.

"You must be Jack," Damien said. "You should have stayed in the past. Where you belong."

Friday, December 17, 2010

Door 17

Jack spent Friday at school. There, but not there. Going through the motions with his body while his mind whirled away.

The Doorway was gone. And as much as he worried over it, he still had no idea how to get it back.


It was clear that his Dad and Janet had no idea about the Doorway. They hadn't taken it away from him - they had forgotten about it completely.

Really, there was only one place it could be. Elementary, Jack thought, and then didn't finish, because it just wasn't very funny.

Damien had it.

Damien had the Doorway. He had Jack's Doorway and he had his own Doorway. Jack wasn't even sure how it worked. Was Damien sitting now with two Doorways in his room? Did one disappear when the other one arrived?

What did it matter? Jack had no way of getting into the future without the Doorway. He was useless here.

Jack was afraid Clarice had picked the wrong guy for the job.


Jack woke up, for the second time this month, with the feeling that someone was staring at him. He rolled onto his back, propped his elbows up and looked down at the end of his bed.

Clarice sat quietly, looking out Jack's window at the starry night.

"Hi, Clarice," Jack said.

"Hi, Jack. Sorry to wake you up in the middle of the night. I had to get out while Damien was asleep."

Jack was confused. "I thought you were too old to travel."

"I lied," Clarice said. "I'm sorry."

"Jeb told me you didn't get too old to travel. I wasn't sure if he was right. Or if you were."

"It was in your notes. Anybody can use the Doorway to travel, at any age."

"So why did you lie to me?" Jack asked.

"I didn't want you to worry."

They were both quiet for some time. Both thinking their own thoughts, but maybe thinking of the same thing.

"You're sick, aren't you?" Jack asked.

Clarice just nodded.

"From going to the past," Jack said. It was a statement, not a question. "Damien sent you to the past too often and got you sick."

Clarice turned away and cupped her face into her hands. She started sobbing quietly, small moans of pain coming from deep inside her chest.

Jack moved down the bed and put his arm around her, pulling her against him.

"Why did you come back here?" Jack whispered. "You shouldn't be traveling to the past any more. Jeb said it's dangerous to go back too often."

Clarice shook her head, her cheeks wet. "It doesn't matter. That's what the doctor said to me, too. He said, 'I don't know what you have, but it doesn't matter, because whatever it is, it's too late.' Then he left and went to the next patient without saying another word. Because he was busy. And it was too late anyway."

"I don't know what to do," Jack said. "I think Damien took the Doorway."

"I know. That's why I came back. We have to stop him. Before he hurts Emma and Nat like he hurt me."


"I'm going to take you back with me. We're going to do the same thing to him that he did to you."

Jack shrugged, confused. He didn't understand.

"We're going to take the Doorways from Damien," Clarice said. "And bring them back here. Where he'll never be able to reach them."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Door 16

It took five hours and 26 minutes to scrub, dry, and repaint a garage wall, including removal of a plastic kiddie pool and standing water, from said pool, from the garage floor.

Jack knew this from experience.

After spending all of his evening in the garage, working, Jack did his best to ignore his Father, who was still very upset, and Janet, who was giving him the pity-eyes. He went straight to his bedroom, fell into his bed and was asleep within minutes.


Jack's cell phone alarm went off and he tossed it across the room. He put the pillow over his head to cut out the morning sunlight streaming into his room. Thursday. Two days of school left until Christmas break. Nine days left until Christmas.

Nine days to figure out how to help Clarice. Nine days to figure out how to stop Damien.

Jack tightened down the pillow over his head and reviewed his recent failures. It wasn't like he was unaccustomed to failure: his Mother leaving him, his Father embarrassed by him, his classmates contemptuous of him. Hey, he had failure down.

But this Doorway thing took it to another level. He just couldn't figure out what to do. He didn't know how to get Damien to stop sending his daughters to the past and he obviously didn't know how to destroy the Doorway.

Jack rubbed his eyes and and threw the pillow to the floor. He'd shower and eat something quick. Then he'd take a slow walk to school to try to come up with a plan.

Tossing his covers to join his pillow on the floor, Jack stood up and walked around his bed. He glanced at the Doorway leaning against the wall as he walked by it.

Jack stopped and turned around. The Doorway was not leaning against his wall. He turned back and forth, scanning his room.

The Doorway was gone.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Door 15

Jack stood in his back yard, shivering in the rain. There was a pile of burnt matches by his feet. The completely undamaged Doorway rested in the grass, soaking up the rain.

Trying to burn up the Doorway, in a driving winter rainstorm, with stupid, tiny matches that burned for about five seconds, tops, was perhaps one of the worst ideas Jack had come up with in a long, long time.


"Let me have the green one," Jack said.

"How old are you?" the guy behind the counter said. He wore a bright red shirt with a "7" on it. The shirt had an impressive collection of stains on it. Beside him, there were about 20 varieties of hot dogs spinning around in a fancy rolling cooker. Jack looked at the guy's filthy shirt again and figured he'd order food from the guy about the same time he'd let him perform a heart transplant.

"What's it matter how old I am?" Jack asked. "It's a stupid lighter."

"I could get in trouble," the guy said, smiling. "What if you go and burn the school down?"

"Then I'd get a vacation. Just sell it to me already."

The guy giggled. He actually giggled. Perhaps he thought about burning the school down himself.

"Five bucks," the guy said.

"It says ninety-nine cents right there!"

"I say five bucks right here."

Jack nodded. "Fine." He dug in his wallet and threw a ten on the counter.

"Thanks." The guy put the bill in his jeans pocket and leaned back against the wall.

"Where's my change?"

"Take two. It's a special sale. Today only."

And he giggled again.


Jack stood in the garage behind his house. He didn't exactly want to start a fire in here, there were plenty of flammables around, but it was still raining outside and the Doorway was wet enough as it was.

He cleared a space in the center of the floor, pushing bikes, folding chairs and a lawnmower out of the way. He stood the Doorway upright on the floor and pulled one of the lighters out of his pocket. Jack cranked the lighter wheel with his thumb and turned the flame up as high as it would go.

It wasn't a very big flame for a five dollar lighter.

Jack held the lighter against the open door marked with a "3." The flame quickly made a black mark against the wood, but didn't seem to do much else. Jack held it against the Doorway until his thumb started to burn from the flame - Jack figured it had been about 20 seconds.

It hadn't even scorched the wood.

Jack rummaged around the garage until he found some old newspapers under an engine part. Jack wasn't even sure what the engine part was - a carburetor, maybe - he wasn't very good with cars. But the newspaper was soaked with oil.

Jack crumpled up the paper and stuffed it into the number three compartment. Then he lit it.

The paper burned hot, but it burned very fast. In about ten seconds, the paper was reduced to ash.

The Doorway was no worse for wear.


Jack held the butane torch in his left hand. He held the lighter in his right.

He was extremely nervous.

Jack had watched his Father use the thing once or twice. He was even pretty sure he had seen him light it. But had he ever really been paying attention?

Not likely.

On the side of the torch, there was a white box with bold black and red print. The box was about six inches tall. About a half-inch of the box held instructions on how to use the torch. The other five and a half inches was warnings on how to avoid killing yourself. It mentioned the flame could reach up to 2000 degrees.

Jack was not filled with confidence.

He had placed the Doorway up on a workbench, leaning against a cement wall. He wanted to be able to stand up straight when he was using this thing.

Taking a deep breath, Jack turned the knob on the butane torch, hearing the gas hiss out. He flicked the lighter and ever so slowly, brought it up to the gas.

The flame ignited suddenly, bright blue, causing Jack to jump and drop the lighter on the floor. He stood and stared at the flame for a moment, transfixed, until he remembered what he was supposed to be doing. Jack adjusted the flame, causing it to thin and turn white-blue.

Jack put the flame against the Doorway and waited for it to burst into flame.

And waited. And waited.

It was unbelievable. Impossible.

The Doorway turned black under the flame, but would not burn.

Jack set the torch on the work bench to take a closer look. The Doorway had a fairly large section, covering three or four doors, that had blackened, like they had been in a fireplace for years, and the metal hinges were dull and gray, with thin cracks running through the soot, but there was no structural damage.

None at all.

Jack stepped back, shaking his head. He glanced back up, needing to examine the Doorway once more, just to set his mind at ease, when he noticed the garage was on fire.


Well, not the whole garage, but there was one wall that was going up pretty good. Jack saw that he had placed the torch a good foot away from a pegboard rack that his Father used to hang tools, but apparently a foot wasn't enough. The pegboard, the tools on the pegboard, and the wall behind the pegboard, were all burning.

The Doorway, leaning just beside the burning pegboard, was not.

Jack turned in a circle, searching for the fire extinguisher that he knew his Father had out here. He didn't see it. He did another turn, forcing himself to go slow and search for it.

No extinguisher.

Jack ran outside the garage. He searched the backyard for something, anything. He saw the water faucet, but the hoses were put away for the winter. There was nothing else back there.

He sprinted around the side of the house. There was a small, plastic swimming pool in the lawn, the grass growing long around it. His dog used to use it as an outdoor water dish - no one actually swam in it. Now it was half-full with rainwater, mold and moss. Jack got a grip on it with both hands and tried to lift it up. He couldn't budge it - it was too heavy. Jack stepped on the side of the pool, sloshing gallons of water out, soaking his shoe. After it drained for a few seconds, Jack tried grabbing it again. It was still heavy, but Jack could just get it lifted. He had to lean back and hold it against his body to keep from spilling it. The pool splashed cold, stinking water over his face and chest.

Jack shuffled across the lawn with the pool, gaining momentum as he hit the garage door. He was almost running with it as he went across the garage floor, tipping it up to dump it on the wall.

Jack meant to throw it against the wall, trying to get the water all the way to the ceiling, where the flames were starting to lick, but his wet foot slipped on the smooth concrete floor and he fell flat on his back.

Rubbing the back of his head, Jack slowly turned over onto his stomach.

Hey, Jack thought, there's the fire extinguisher - right under the work bench.

Jack grabbed it and put out the fire.


This was going to be an interesting one to explain to his Father.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Door 14

This was idiotic.

Sitting around, talking with Clarice, it had all sounded so simple. Go to the future, meet your great grand daughters and your grandson, and somehow stop your grandson from sending his own daughters back to the past

Oh yeah, and make sure you did it all fast, because the girls were all getting sick and once Christmas came and went, it would be another year before he could even get back to them again.

Never mind that Jack was 12 years old. Never mind that this Damien was an adult, and apparently a big adult at that. Never mind that Jack had absolutely no idea how to do any of it.



Jack sat in his room, feeling sorry for himself. As an unpopular 7th grader, feeling sorry for himself was second nature. Hey, if you were going to do something, do it right!

The Doorway leaned against the wall of his bedroom, mocking him. Everyone might blame him for what happened, but he blamed that stupid box.

How was he supposed to know what to do? How could he stop Damien?

Jack had absolutely no idea.

All right, think of it a different way. Don't worry about Damien at all. How about we just get rid of the stinking Doorway completely?

Would that work?

Jack wasn't sure. If he could destroy the Doorway somehow in the present, would it make it disappear in the future?

Why hadn't he asked Jeb that? He could go back and ask him. Waste another day, but he'd know for sure.

Nope, it was time to man up. Jack was tired of messing around. He had 12 days to finish this thing.

Jack stood up and pointed at the Doorway. "You're going down, my friend."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Door 13

Jack unwrapped his candy cane and stuck it in his mouth. He didn't even like them much, but Jeb had insisted. Dirty dishes covered the table. They had been sitting at the table for a long time. Much longer than Jack had thought possible, but Jeb covered that first.

Up to this point, Jeb had done most of the talking. He told Jack everything he knew about the Doorway. What to do, and more importantly, what not to do. How to use the Doorway and be safe.

Jeb's advice on that was simple: don't use it.


"How did your brother die?" Jack asked.

Jeb bit off a large piece of candy cane and chewed it up. It hurt Jack's teeth just watching it.

"We had been using the Doorway for three or four years at that point. We were overconfident. No, that's putting it too nicely. We were cocky. We thought we could do absolutely anything. And we never thought of the consequences," Jeb said. He paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts. "Matt loved science fiction when we were kids. He used to watch everything he could - spaceships, robots, aliens. Movies, television, and books - he spent all his free time in his head. In the future. He wanted to be Buck Rogers for real."

"What happened?"

"What happens when you go to the future and there's no future there?" Jeb asked. "I told Matt there were risks about going to the future. I mean, who knows what things will look like 100 years in the future? How about 200 years? Or 500 years? I told him over and over, take it easy, don't push it, just take small steps. But he couldn't do it. He wanted to be Buck Rogers."

"How far in the future did he go?"

"He had this magazine," Jeb said. "It was a short story about the year 3000. In the story, the entire world had evolved. It was a utopia. People didn't even work, they just played. There was a full-page illustration with the story. It showed a waterfall, a lake, grass and trees, and a bunch of half-dressed women lounging around. Quite the attraction for a teenage boy."

Jack put down his candy cane. His stomach didn't feel very good.

"He never came back," Jeb said.

"Maybe it really was a utopia," Jack said. "Maybe that's why he never came back."

"Yeah, I tried to tell myself that for a long time. But after a week, a month, a year...well, I gave up on that. I think no matter how amazing it was, he would have come back to tell me. He would have come back to have me join him. He's dead."

"I'm sorry," Jack said. "And I'm sorry to have to ask you this stuff, but it could be important to me."

"To save those girls," Jeb said.

"Yeah, to save those girls."

Jack stood up and walked over to the Doorway, looking at the spices. He had never heard of cardamom in his life. He unscrewed the cap and sniffed it. It was strong - sort of a cross between ginger and mint. Jack couldn't imagine what you'd make with it.

"How did your other friends die?" Jack said softly.

"They went back too many times. You know how going to the past upsets your stomach?"

Jack nodded.

"Well, it upsets your stomach because it's eating away at you. I have no idea how it works, but our two friends, Ryan and Roddy, they were brothers, would go back all the time. They loved going to the 1920's. The Roaring 20's. They'd dress up here, and then go back and party all night long. Then come back, go to school for a week, and do it again the next weekend. Pretty soon, they were having stomach pains all the time, even when they were back here in their own time. Their parents took them to a doctor to try to figure out what was going on. The first doctor didn't even want to guess, so they went to another. Then they went to a specialist. Finally, some doctor said you've got some kind of cancer we haven't seen before. It wasn't cancer, of course, but the doctors couldn't figure out what it was for sure."

Jeb got up and stood beside Jack, staring at the Doorway as well.

"The doctors didn't know what was causing it, but they could see the end result coming," Jeb said. "They told Ryan and Roddy to make peace with whichever God they liked the best, cause they would both be seeing him soon enough."

Jack thought about Clarice. He thought about how many times she said she'd been back, trying to make money for her Father. He thought about the twins, who were making the same trips to the past now.

"How many times do you think they went back, before they got the cancer?" Jack asked.

"I don't know, three years? Definitely not more than four," Jeb said. "I don't think you need to worry about yourself. You should be all right."

"Yeah," Jack said. "I'm not worried about me."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Door 12

Jack stood in front of his house. Only it wasn't his house. It would be another ten years before it would become Jack's house.

It was Jebidiah Guthrie's house. It said so on the mailbox, so it must be true.

Jack rang the doorbell and a older man with white hair and a bushy white mustache answered Jack's front door.

If everything he had heard in the last few days was true, Jack figured there was no need to beat around the bush.

"Hi, I"m Jack. We need to talk about the advent calendar."

Jebidiah smiled at him, showing teeth so blindingly white they could only have been brand new dentures. "The Doorway? Come on in."


Jeb was kind enough to offer Jack a Pepsi instead of coffee. They sat across from each other at the kitchen table, much like Jack had with Jeb's sister the day before.

"So you live here?" Jeb asked.

"Yeah," Jack said. "I've lived here for almost a year. Since my Mom and Dad got a divorce."

"You like it here?"

Jack nudged the candy with his tongue and decided to get to the point. "You're using the Doorway as a spice rack?"

Jeb glanced at the wall behind him. The Doorway was nailed to the wall above the stove. Every one of the 25 compartments had the door open and was filled with countless bottles and cans of spices. It looked like it had been there for a while.

"Yeah," Jeb said. "It's pretty useful."


"What would you like me to do with it?"

"Well," Jack said. "How about, I don't know, go back in time and do something good? Do something that would change history for the better. Like, kill Hitler or something."

"Yes, it does inspire those kinds of thoughts, doesn't it?" Jeb said. "I'm not sure it would be that easy; guards, police, just finding him could prove difficult, but I imagine it could be done. What if I go back and kill Hitler and the guy that takes over for him is even worse? Or just smarter? Maybe the next guy would win the war instead of losing it."

"Those are just excuses," Jack said.

"You're right, they are. You know the real reason I've never done anything like that?"

Jack shrugged.

"Because it's so easy to see where to start - Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot - but where do you stop? Should I look for Bonnie and Clyde? Should I try to cure polio before it maims thousands of people? What about the guy down the street that beats his wife? Want me to kill him? How about that drunk driver last week? Should I blow up his car before he can get in it?"

Jack didn't say anything. He didn't know what to say.

"It's a full time job, isn't it? If you want to be a super hero, you've got to be ready for the responsibility," Jeb said. "I'm not ready."

"Your sister, Mary, said that you killed your brother with the Doorway."

Jeb closed his eyes for a moment. "She's right. And two of our best friends from high school died too. We were young. And stupid. None of us were ready for the responsibility."

"I'm sorry," Jack said. Then he replayed Jeb's last statement in his head. "High school? How were you guys using the Doorway in high school? I thought it didn't work after you hit puberty."

"Who told you that?"

"It's confusing," Jack said. "I sort of told myself. From the future. To the past."

Jeb smiled, showing off the white teeth again. "Yeah, it gets like that, doesn't it? But you're wrong, there's no age limit on the Doorway. It works just fine for kids and adults alike. Trust me."

"Crap. My candy is almost gone," Jack said. "I'm going to disappear in a second. I still need to ask you some things."

"Candy? What are you talking about?"

"You know, the candy from the Doorway. Open the door and eat the candy, then move through time."

"I'm starting to wonder if you know how this thing works at all," Jeb said. "Why don't you come back and see me again tomorrow? We'll have dinner. And discuss the Doorway in a little more detail."

Jack was speechless. He nodded.

And flipped back home. From home. Only later. Or earlier.

It was all getting a little confusing.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Door 11

"He's dead?" Jack asked.

"Good riddance," the old woman said.

"But how?"

"He was old," the woman said. "I ain't standing out here in the cold chatting with you."

And she turned around and walked back into the house. She left the door wide open, which Jack figured was good enough as invites go.

Jack walked into her living room and glanced around. It wasn't a guy's house, that was for sure. There were flowers and lace tablecloths and pillows and some downright scary life-like miniature dolls sitting everywhere.

Jack poked his head into the kitchen. "Um, yeah, do you mind if I ask just a few questions about your brother, Mrs. um, Mrs?"

"It's Mary," putting water on the stove. "Did you shut the damn door?"

Jack glanced back at the door, knowing it was closed, but not wanting to get Mary upset. More upset.

"Yeah, it's closed."

"Sit down," Mary told him.

Jack sat and watched as Mary poured three heaping teaspoons of instant coffee into two very old mugs. She dumped the steaming water into the mugs and walked them over to the table. She placed one cup of coffee in front of Jack and sat down with the other one cradled in her hands.

He didn't want to be rude, so Jack brought the coffee up to his lips. He had never tried coffee in his life. He took a quick gulp and couldn't help wincing at the horrible, acrid taste.

Mary squinted at him. "You're too young to know Jeb. Why did you want to talk to him?"

Jack shrugged. "He used to live in our house. I think he left some things behind. I was hoping to ask him about them."

"That wooden calendar. He killed our brother, you know."

Jack was trying to process that Mary knew about the Doorway before she had even moved on to the brother - now his brain was scrambling to catch up.

"What?" Jack said. "He killed his brother?"

"He sure did."


"I don't know, but Matthew was here one day, then the next day we were having his funeral. I was only seven years old."

Jack didn't know what to think. "So that advent calendar was Jeb's?"

"Sure was," Mary said. "And there was something weird about it too. Jeb and Matt were always hiding in the attic, messing around with that thing. They'd disappear for hours and I wouldn't be able to find them. They'd come back with unbelievable stuff. Things that we didn't have names for...then. Did you find that calendar?"

Jack just nodded.

"Have weird things been going on?"

Jack shook his head, but Mary didn't go for it.

"You're lying to me," Mary said. "That damn calendar lets you jump into different times and places. It's magic. They'd never let me use it, but I knew the whole time. That calendar killed Matt. I know it did. And now you've got it. Don't mess around with that thing. Just throw it away."

Jack looked down at his shoes.

"Listen Boy," Mary said. "You seem all right. I don't want to see you get hurt. You think Jeb could answer some questions for you about that box?"


"And you've got a calendar that jumps through time?"

"Yes," Jack said quietly.

"Damn it. Do I have to draw you a picture?" Mary said. "Go back in time and talk to him then!"

Friday, December 10, 2010

Door 10

"Hey, Janet," Jack said. "How's it going?"

Janet stood with her mouth slightly open, not knowing quite what to say. This was the first time Jack had initiated a conversation with her in, well, ever.

"Yeah, so anyway," Jack said. "Where did you say you found that Advent Calendar that you gave me?"

A huge smile broke across Janet's face. "Isn't it fantastic! I knew you would love it."

Jack nodded. "I do love it. I do. Where did you find it?"

Janet practically sprinted around the table to stand a foot from Jack. "I can show you. I'd be happy to."

"Nah. Just wondering where."

Janet deflated slightly, her shoulders visibly slumping. "In the corner of the attic, under that mirror."

"Thanks. See ya," Jack said, walking out of the kitchen.


Jack stood in the attic with his shirt pulled up over his mouth and nose. It was just rank up here. It was like a combination of dirty socks and rat droppings with a dash of moldy drywall. He couldn't breathe.

Plus, there was absolutely nothing in the corner, under the mirror, except some old Christmas lights and a recliner that was probably both the source of the stank and a cozy home for attic vermin.

Jack left.


"Hey, Dad," Jack said. "How's it going?"

"Working. Leave me alone."

Jack nodded and sat down in an overstuffed chair across from his Father's desk. "So did Janet tell you about that Advent Calendar she gave me?"

"Yes, she did," his Father said, typing away on his laptop. "Go away."

"She said she got it out of the attic. Do you know where it came from?"

His Father sighed and looked at Jack for the first time. "The previous owner left a bunch of crap in the attic when he moved out. I meant to toss it all, but I haven't had time. Because I work. From home. Like now."

"Do you know who the previous owner was?" Jack asked.

"Why do you care?"

"I don't know," Jack said. "You know, houses, the history of homes. Houses. I don't know, it's interesting."

"It's not," his Father said. "Besides, you don't buy houses from the people that own them, you buy them from a realtor. I never even met the guy that owned the house."

"Don't you have paperwork or anything?"

His Father squinted at him. "Don't you have homework or anything?"

"I'm interested!"

"Fine, all the paperwork is in a file cabinet in the garage," his Father said. "I'm not sure what you're up to, but as long as you leave me alone, I don't care."

"Great," Jack said, getting up to leave.

"Don't sell the house without asking me first," his Father said.


Jack couldn't believe how much crap was in the little, two-drawer file cabinet. And it took him quite a while to find the documents from the purchase of the house. They were all legal sized and wouldn't fit in a regular file folder, so apparently his Father just figured he'd throw them at the bottom of the file cabinet, hidden under all the hanging files.

Jack flipped through a couple pages before he saw it: "Seller: Jebidiah Guthrie."

"Jebidiah?" Jack giggled. "You've got to be kidding me."


Jack typed in "Jebidiah Guthrie" on Google. Too many entries, too much chaff.

So he tried "" and got a few hits. One was Jack's house - that was an old one - and the other was across town.

Jack got his bike out of the garage.


An old lady - an OLD lady - answered the door. She looked like she was built out of five thin sticks and about two yards of well-worn leather. In fact, Jack had seen saddles that looked more lively than she did.

"What do you want?"

"I was wondering-" Jack started.

"I ain't buying anything from you," the old lady said. "I bought some magazines from a kid a few months ago. Well, I don't know if he was a kid. More like a young man. Said he was selling for his church. I never got no magazines. I think he ripped me off."

"Probably," Jack said agreeably.

"What do you want?" the old woman asked again.

"I'm looking for Jebidiah Guthrie," Jack said. "Does he live here?"

The woman snorted up something big and wet. She looked around like she was finding a place to spit it. She glanced at Jack's shoes. Then she swallowed.

Jack shivered.

"He's dead," she said.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Door 9

"Comics?" Jack asked.

"Sometimes baseball cards," Clarice said. "Sometimes coins or stamps. It's always something that won't draw too much attention for a couple of six year old girls to buy. And it has to be something that they can carry easily. They can't go back and buy a grandfather clock or something."

Jack nodded. "That's smart."

Clarice scowled at him. "Don't act like Damien is some master criminal pulling off a genius plan. He's a common thief, willing to hurt his children to make money!"

Jack decided to shut up.

They were sitting in a park a few blocks away from Clarice's apartment. Well, she had called it a park, but to Jack, it looked like a parking lot without cars. There were a few benches and a few tables - that's it. No grass, no trees, no playground, no fun.

Clarice leaned over and hugged Jack quickly, then pulled back.

"I'm sorry," Clarice said. "I'm just tense. I know none of this is your fault."

Jack shrugged. "I don't know. I'm the one that wrote the notes on how to use this thing. Maybe I should have just burned it instead."

"How could you know? Some people would actually use it for good reasons. There's so many ways it could help people, but my Father doesn't think like that."

"My grandson," Jack mumbled.

Clarice smiled at him. "It must be hard to find out you're a Father, Grandfather, and Great Grandfather all at once...when you're 12 years old."

"At least I know there's one girl out there somewhere that won't tell me to get lost," Jack said, laughing.

"She must be a very smart girl," Clarice said.

"We can hope." Jack stood up and stretched. "Candy's almost gone. Let me ask you one more thing."

"Go ahead."

"Why don't you go back instead of your sisters?"

"There's something about age. Maybe puberty, or somewhere around there. It just doesn't work for me anymore."

Jack's cheeks reddened.

"Anyway, it was in your-"

"Yeah, my notes," Jack said. "Why do we only get sick when we go back? I always feel fine coming here."

"I don't know. Something about going to the past affects your body. Going to the future doesn't. I can't explain it. But it happens to everyone."

"It wasn't in my notes?"

"I don't think so," Clarice said.

"Weird," Jack said. "I wonder how we could find out."

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Door 8

The postcard read “New York City: 1938 – The City of Wonder.”

You couldn't prove it by Jack. The front of the postcard looked like any other old city. He couldn't imagine why Clarice wanted him to use the Doorway to go back to New York City in 1938, but that’s what she said. So that’s what he was going to do.

Jack looked at his clothes one last time. Clarice had said to look “dull.” He didn’t own a lot of “dull,” but he wore as much brown as he could find and called it good enough.

Jack checked his watch, took a deep breath, and tossed the candy into his mouth.


Even in 1938, New York City was hopping. Jack moved to the edge of the sidewalk and tried to stay out of the way. He bent over slightly as a sharp pain hit the side of his gut. Jack was afraid he might throw up right there on the sidewalk of The City of Wonder. This time-travel stuff was hard on the stomach.

Jack knelt down and took shallow breaths, hoping the sudden nausea would pass. He was so preoccupied with the pain in his stomach, he nearly missed Clarice’s twin sisters walk right by in front of him.

Squinting through the pain from the cramps in his gut, Jack hobbled after them. They seemed a little wobbly on their feet as well, and if anything, looked even more pale than they had when Jack had seen them a few days before.

The girls – Jack knew now they were Emma and Nat, although he didn’t know which was which – made a beeline for a small drug store at the end of the block.

Jack followed them in and watched from a few aisles over as they each grabbed something from a squat wooden rack sitting on the floor. The two girls went up to the front counter and handed a few coins to an elderly man standing behind an equally elderly, but very shiny, cash register. The man put their purchases into a thin paper bag and gave them a slight wave as they turned and left the store.

Glancing out the window at the twins, Jack hurried over to the rack and picked up the item that the girls had purchased. It was a comic book. No, Jack thought, it was the comic book: “Action Comics #1.” It was a million dollar comic book.

And they had just paid twenty cents. For two copies.

Jack gently set the comic back into the rack and hustled out of the store. He saw the twins about a half block ahead. He wasn’t sure if he was supposed to talk to them or not – Clarice didn’t say – so he just stayed back.

One of the girls stumbled and fell. Her sister bent down and said something to her and pulled her back to her feet. It looked like they both had sweat on their faces, but it was actually quite cool out.

Jack touched his face. He was sweating as well. It must be his stomach. He felt awful.

The girls turned and walked into an alley.

Jack weaved through a crowd of people and headed down the alley after them.

The girls weren’t there. Jack spun in a circle, wondering where they could have gone. Then he noticed two half-eaten candies on the street.

They were gone.

Jack bent over and threw up, quite effectively ending his first visit to New York City.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Door 7

"No pressure though, right?" Jack said.

Clarice smiled.

Then she took the smile away. "We've got to be fast. When the candy is gone, you'll go back."

Jack tried to see the joke, but she really didn't seem like the joking type. "Back where?"

"To your own time. Come on, let's walk."

Jack hurried to keep up with Clarice. She walked fast.

"Oh my God," Jack said, pulling at his shirt. "Why is it so hot here?"

"It's pretty normal today," Clarice said. "It can get much hotter. So do you know how the Doorway works?"

"The what?" Jack said, not paying attention. He was wondering why the streets were so deserted. "Where is everyone?"

"Inside. Nobody comes out during the day anymore," Clarice said. She stopped and faced him. "Do you know how the Doorway works?"

"I don't even know what the Doorway is. What are we talking about?"

Clarice threw her hands up in frustration. "You're the one that wrote all the notes! You're supposed to know everything about it! That's why I brought you here!"

Jack shifted the candy from one side of his mouth to the other. He moved one hand in front of her face, his thumb and index finger about a centimeter apart. "Listen, Clarice. I'm about this close to totally freaking out on you. So can you just relax for a second and tell me what's going on?"


Jack and Clarice sat next to each other on the sidewalk, leaning against the wall of a derelict, abandoned school. Clarice was doing most of the talking. Jack was just sitting, sweating, and listening.

The candy was just about gone.

"Can't I take the candy out and hold it or something," Jack asked.

Clarice shook her head.

"Because my notes say it won't work, right?"

She nodded.

"So these many, many pages of detailed notes that I wrote about the Doorway - you can't get them?"

"Damien hid them," Clarice said. "He knew I was looking for them. I've only skimmed through them once."

"Why do you call it the Doorway?" Jack asked.

"You'll see. Tomorrow."

"Did you come up with that name? The Doorway...sounds scary," Jack said.

"It was in your notes."

"Yeah, well, I always was pretty creative."

"So you'll do it?" Clarice said. "For me?"

Jack shrugged. "Sure. I guess. I still don't see what the big deal is."

Clarice looked away. "I know. Just hold on to the picture and go tomorrow. I'll try to explain it better next time."

"When will that be?" Jack asked.

But he was back in his empty room and there was no one there to answer him.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Door 6

Bravery, as a concept, is a strange and confusing topic for a twelve year old boy. Every boy knows they're expected to be brave, even at ten, even at eight, even younger. The movies demand bravery, and reward it handsomely. So do the TV shows, and the cartoons. Lord, even the commercials expect boys to be brave. But what twelve year old is truly brave? No doubt, there are more than a few that don't understand the consequences of their actions. Those boys look brave, but are actually more foolish than courageous.

Jack knew all this, even though he probably couldn't have put it into words. Jack also knew he wasn't particularly brave, but he was definitely smart enough to figure out the consequences for cowards who just tried to act brave. That path led to failure and shame. Find a seventh grade boy who couldn't tell you that.

Which is all a drawn out way to say that Jack was still standing in front of the advent calendar the day after the twin girls had visited him. Jack had done a lot of thinking, but little else. The intellectual route seemed safer than taking the more simple and direct path toward being brave. He had thought about the calendar, about what the girls had said to him, about the candies. About the new photo.

The photo the twin girls had given him yesterday was pretty simple. If it was a puzzle that he needed to figure out, Jack wasn't getting it. It was a picture of the older sister. The girls had called her Clarice. In the photo, Clarice was standing outside a building. The building itself was sort of gray and dingy. It was hard to tell what it was meant to be; maybe an apartment building. Clarice had on tan shorts and a thin, white cotton shirt. Her brown hair was cut short, her eyes dark and serious. But in this photo, there was one subtle difference in comparison to the first photo: Clarice was smiling. Well, a half-smile anyway. She wasn't really looking happy, but at least hopeful.

Jack thought she was quite pretty when she smiled.


Jack held the picture in one hand and two candies in the other hand.

He had opened Door 5 of the advent calendar yesterday, more to satisfy his curiosity than anything else. And sure enough, there was a candy hidden away in the compartment. Then he tried the fourth door, which he had not wanted to open the day before. It opened fine now, even a day late, but it was empty. Jack set the candy from Door 5 on his desk and took a walk outside. He hadn't picked up the candy again.

That was yesterday.

Today, Jack opened Door 6. Again, a candy. Now he had two candies. Jack figured he could collect hundreds of candies from the calendar, but their collective weight still wouldn't somehow cause him to become brave enough to put one in his mouth. Shame from your peers and family could work wonders on issues of bravery, but sometimes it was difficult to shame yourself into it - Jack knew full well he was a coward, and frankly didn't see a huge amount of shame in it.

Jack tried a couple other doors, "23" and "24," even though he knew they wouldn't open. They didn't.

So now he stood in front of the advent calendar, holding the photo of Clarice in his left hand and two candies in his right.

Jack had a horrible, sinking feeling. He had mixed the candies up. He opened his hand up and stared at the two candies sitting on his palm. There was no way to tell them apart. I am just so stupid, Jack thought. What if he was supposed to eat a particular candy? What if he had to eat the one from Door 6 on the sixth of December? What if he ate the wrong one and it killed him or something? How could he have been so dumb?

Jack looked at the two candies. He looked at the photo. Clarice smiled at him. She had no idea how dumb he was, or she wouldn't be smiling.

He thought, if I were truly a brave person, I would just toss one of them into my mouth.

Jack tossed a candy into his mouth.

And the world shifted around him once again.


Clarice stood in front of the gray apartment building and stared at Jack. She smiled a half-smile.

Jack was confused. She was wearing tan shorts and a thin white t-shirt. The building was dreary and lifeless. It was all so familiar. Jack glanced down at the photo, then glanced up at Clarice again.

She nodded at him. "I'm real," she said.

Jack nodded back. He thought about saying, "I'm real" back to her, but...well, it was obvious, right?

"I'm so glad you made it," Clarice said. "You're the only one who can help us now."

To which Jack thought; when I'm the last hope, you're really at the bottom of the barrel.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Door 5

Jack was dreaming again.

Or he was going crazy again. Well, maybe that was the wrong way to think about it. Maybe he was going crazy still.

Whatever. The point was Jack was in his bed and afraid to move. His clock on the bed stand read 4:02 AM, which was about right for dream-time, and probably ok for crazy-time as well. Jack assumed anytime was a good time for crazy-time.

Jack was afraid to move because there were two girls standing about three feet from his bed, staring at him. They weren’t very scary in and of themselves. They were about six years old or so, definitely twins, and pale as ghosts. They were a bit skinny and unhealthy looking as well. In fact, they could have been ghosts – they were pale almost to the point of translucence.

But what really scared Jack about these two girls was the fact that they seemed quite real. He could see their shadows, which the glow of his alarm clock cast out behind them. He could see dark circles under their eyes, like they hadn’t slept well in weeks. He could even sort of smell them. They smelled sweet and somehow sickly at the same time, like someone with the flu who had just taken a teaspoon of disgustingly sweet grape cough syrup.

He was no expert, but Jack didn’t think dreams ever had quite this level of detail to them.

Finally, he was afraid to move because he slept in his underwear, and six years old or not, Jack wasn’t running from his room, in his underwear, in front of two girls.

Jack raised his hand to them: half wave, half don’t-move-any-closer.

“Hi, Jack,” said the one on the left.

The girl on the right just give a small, quick smile at Jack. Then she looked down like her feet were more interesting than Jack.

Jack squeaked. He meant to say “hi” back to them, but it just didn’t come out.

“We were supposed to come give you a message,” the girl on the left said. Then she looked at her twin. Her twin just kept staring at her shoes. “She needs you to hurry up.”

“Who?” Jack asked. “Who needs me to hurry up?”

“Clarice,” the girl on the left said. “Our sister.”

Then Jack recognized them. The photo. These were two of the three frowning girls.

“Why did you put that picture in my calendar?” Jack asked.

“Because Clarice needs to talk to you,” Left Girl said.

“About what?”

The girl looked at her sister, and the sister pulled her gaze up from the floor for just a moment. Long enough to give her twin a quick, worried look, then back down again.

“It’s sort of long. And weird,” Left Girl said. “Clarice can explain it better than we can. She’s smart.”

“So have her come talk to me,” Jack said. Then he reconsidered. “Tomorrow. During the day. When I’m dressed.”

Left Girl sighed and turned to her sister. Right Girl took out a photo from her jacket pocket and handed it over to Left Girl.

“She can't come talk to you. You need to look at this picture when you eat the candy later today,” Left Girl said. “Then you can talk to Clarice.”

Left Girl gently placed the photo on Jack’s bed, right next to his pillow. Right Girl pulled on her sister’s sleeve and headed for Jack’s bedroom door.

“Wait!” Jack hissed. “I’m not eating any candy. I don’t want anything to do with that thing.”

Right Girl paused at the door and spoke for the first time. “Please,” she said.

They walked out of the room and Jack scrambled out of his bed, searching for some pants. He couldn’t find any. There was crap everywhere, but no stinking pants! Jeez, why didn’t he clean his room once in a while?

He spotted a pair of sweats thrown across his desk and pulled them on quickly, almost falling over a pair of shoes.

Jack ran out of his room, wanting to ask the girls a few more questions. Maybe find out their names, which he had stupidly forgotten to ask.

Jack ran through the living room and into the kitchen – nothing. The back door was still locked. He ran back through the living room and the entry hall to the front door. It was locked too.

They were gone.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Door 4

Jack didn’t want to get out of bed. In fact, he wasn’t going to get out of bed. He was going to tell Janet he was sick and staying home from school and that was that.

And to be honest, he didn’t feel that great. Ever since his episode the day before (that’s what Jack called it, “the episode;” what was he supposed to call it?), he’d had a headache, and his chest and back were sore, like he had the flu or something.

That wasn’t the only problem of course. Jack couldn’t lie to himself – he was scared. He was scared of what happened the day before. He was scared that he had imagined the whole thing. He was scared he had gone a little crazy.

He was scared of the advent calendar.

There was absolutely no reason for Jack to believe that the advent calendar had caused the episode the day before. No reason whatsoever.

But Jack did believe it.

It was officially December 4th. According to Jack’s watch, it had been December 4th for about seven hours and 24 minutes now. It was indeed official. Jack could march over and open the fourth door in the calendar without a pang of guilt. People all over the world were opening all sorts of fourth doors on their very own advent calendars. It was the obvious and normal thing to do.

But Jack wasn’t going to do it.

His Mother had left him once. She had turned her back on him and deserted him. Why would he want to see her again? Why would he want to go through that again?

Even if he was dreaming the whole thing, why would he possibly want to give her the chance to leave him again?

Jack was alone in his room, but he still moved his blanket up over his face to hide his tears. If he hid them, then she hadn’t hurt him.

And he wasn’t going to let her hurt him again.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Door 3

Jack came home from school and walked directly to his room. Usually he would toss his backpack in front of the door and plop down on the couch – play some video games, maybe have some pretzels or something. Today, he wanted to check out the advent calendar a little more.

His new mom, Janet, hated it when he went into his room and closed his door. So Jack made sure to close the door behind him.

Jack wished he hadn’t ignored Janet so well the day before. What had she said – she found the calendar in the attic? So where did the weird photo come from? Jack couldn’t imagine Janet putting it in there as some kind of joke. She was too vanilla for that. So where did it come from?

Propping the advent calendar up against his wall, Jack studied it closely. He pulled open the door marked “1” and looked in. Nothing. It was completely empty. He opened the door marked “2” and checked inside. It was empty too. He tried the third door. There was a bright blue, almost phosphorescent, round candy hiding in the corner of the little compartment. Jack pulled it out and looked at it. A little dusty, but nothing he couldn’t handle. He wiped it off on his shirt while trying to open the fourth door.

The door marked “4” would not budge. Neither would “5,” “6,” “14,” or “18.” Jack tried all of them. They were totally stuck.

Which was pretty bizarre. Jack tried the first three doors again – opened and closed. They worked perfectly. The hinges were smooth and silent and the wood didn’t even rub when the doors were closed: the fit was as true as it could possibly be.

Well, OK, it was December 3rd, so maybe the other doors weren’t supposed to open yet, but Jack didn’t see any kind of lock on any of the doors, including the first three that had opened. So it would be a pretty good trick to keep them closed until the day they were supposed to open. He figured he had to be missing something.

Jack shook his head, wishing Janet wouldn’t sneak into his room, even if it was to give him candy. His real Mom would never have done that. She respected his room and his privacy. She had always knocked before she came in. She had even knocked the day she came in and told Jack she was leaving him and Dad…

Looked like a pretty good jawbreaker. Jack tossed it into his mouth.

And the room swam in front of his eyes.

No, Jack thought, the room didn’t swim – he didn’t feel dizzy or sick. It was more like the room stood up, moved one inch to the left, and slammed back down again. It was the oddest sensation he had ever felt in his life.

And the advent calendar was gone.

And the wall of his bedroom was a different color.

It had been blue a second ago. Now it was white, which it hadn’t been for over a year. Not since they had “started fresh” and painted the whole house over.

Jack wedged the jawbreaker inside his cheek and slowly turned his head, trying to sneak up on his room to break the weird hallucination he was having.

It didn’t work. He turned all the way around and found a room that looked like it had two years ago, when he was ten. Before his Mother had left. His Pokemon comforter covered his bed. His Pikachu, Charizard, and Blastoise posters hung on the far wall.

OK, so it was a phase, Jack thought. Then he noticed girls and moved on.

This was bizarre – Jack couldn’t believe how real it all felt. He wondered briefly if someone had walked into his room and smacked him on the back of the head. Maybe he was unconscious and dreaming. How else to explain it?

Jack slowly got to his feet and walked around his room. It looked exactly like it had before his Mother left – it was like stepping back in time.

Jack wandered from his room and made his way to the kitchen. His eyes were wide, noticing the subtle differences in the house. He stepped into the kitchen and saw his Mother at the sink.

Not Janet – his real Mother.

“Hey, Kiddo,” she said.

Jack nodded. He didn’t trust himself to speak. She had always called him “kiddo.” He had almost forgotten that.

He stared at his Mother’s back as she continued to wash dishes. His head began to feel heavy and thick, like there was a brick sitting on top of it up there. He felt something brush against his leg.

With his head moving slowly – his brain just didn’t feel right – Jack looked down and saw Mick sitting on the floor, staring at him with his tongue hanging out.

Mick was Jack’s old dog. Part German Shepherd, part Lab, all mutt.

Mick had died nine months ago.

Jack choked on his jawbreaker. Really choked on it. The thing was wedged in his throat. He gasped and tried to cough. There was no air. He was making a really weird sound with his throat, trying to gulp in, but not getting anything.

His Mother finally noticed. “Hey! Are you OK? Jack!”

She moved over behind him and whacked him on his back with her palm. Once, twice, three times.

Jeez, Jack thought, I’m going to die. Doesn’t she know that doesn’t work? The Heimlich. Doesn’t she know about the Heimlich?

His Mother reared back and smacked Jack hard. The jawbreaker flew from his mouth and shot across the room.

And the room moved an inch to the right. Jack’s Mother went with it.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Door 2

Jack woke up, slid his feet onto the floor and rubbed his face. Two more weeks of school until Christmas break. That was a long, long time. He wasn’t sure he could take it. School had not been easy for him lately. Jack appreciated reading all of the bullying articles in the news lately. He wondered, why not me? Where are my bullies? At least bullies would mean someone was paying attention to him. Instead, Jack drifted through school from day to day without creating so much as a ripple among the ocean of students he came in contact with.

It didn’t help that Jack was sort of small and sort of scrawny. That was Janet’s fault. Jack had not grown since his parents had divorced 19 months earlier. Literally, he had not grown a centimeter. It was like the bad feelings and the rejection he felt from his Mother leaving and Janet moving in had settled right in his spine and weighed him down.

Standing up like he was 80 instead of 12, Jack creaked over to his door to head to the bathroom.

And tripped over the advent calendar and fell, face first, onto the shag carpet.

Jack rolled over, rubbing the pain out of his toes. How, HOW, could a stubbed toe hurt like that? Janet must have left the stupid thing leaning against his door. He walked back into his room and carefully put on one sock and one shoe, on his good foot. Then he limped back out, circled the advent calendar, and kicked it as hard as he could. The wood box flew across his bedroom and crashed into the far wall.

Then Jack hobbled, lopsided on one shoe, to the bathroom.

After showering, then slouching through yet another bowl of cereal for breakfast, Jack was headed out the door to run to school – he was late – when he stepped on the photo from the advent calendar. It must have fallen out of the calendar when he kicked it. He picked it up and stuffed it into the pocket of his hoodie as he ran out the door.


If there was something more boring than seventh grade math, Jack hadn’t found it. He sat in the back row of the class and looked over the photo from the advent calendar.

It was an odd shot: an older girl, maybe Jack’s age, and two younger girls, probably around five or six. They looked at the camera with straight faces. No, it was more than that, they looked sad. People smiled for pictures, it was pretty universal, but these three were definitely not smiling.

Jack leaned forward, squinting at the picture. The older girl was palming a small piece of paper, about the size of a playing card. Jack thought that his name was on the piece of paper. The words were really too small to read on the tiny photo, but it sure looked like his name.

It wasn’t an uncommon name, but still…

“Jasmine,” Jack whispered. “Jasmine.”

The girl sitting just to Jack’s right had her iPod ear buds in and was doing a good job of pretending that she couldn’t hear Jack because of them.

Jack jabbed her with his pencil. “Let me see your ruler,” Jack said.

She handed it to Jack while continuing to stare straight ahead, ignoring his presence. It was a skill many of the girls in his school had perfected.

Jack moved the tapered edge of the plastic ruler over the photo. The details of the photo were magnified under a neon green plastic sheen as Jack moved the ruler across the photo.

Jack studied the writing on the card. It definitely said “Jack.” Under his name were two more words.

“Help us.”

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Door 1

The thing had to be 100 years old. At least.

It was a box. Sort of. Maybe a cabinet. Kind of. It was about two feet wide and about two feet tall, but it wasn’t quite square. Maybe just a touch taller than wide. It was a few inches deep. The box was made out of dark, smooth wood, not varnished at all, but still polished and clean, like it had been rubbed over by scores of hands through the years.

And it had 25 little doors with 25 little metal hinges. There were magnificently ornate numbers carved into each door, from one to twenty-five. It had dust caked in the corners. There were spider webs across the back of the cabinet. The whole thing looked like it had been buried in an attic for generations.

“Isn’t it gorgeous?” Jack’s Mom said. Well, Jack’s “new” Mom anyway. Janet.

“I found it in the attic,” she said.

Jack looked at her like she was an alien. “What is it?”

“An advent calendar. It’s for you,” she said.

“All right,” Jack said. And it can go right back into the attic for all I care, Jack thought.

“Only the first door will open,” Janet said. “I can’t seem to get the rest open.”

“Great. Could it be more useless? I mean that’s the whole point of the thing, right?” Jack said. “You’ve got to open it up to put stuff in there for me to find. Like money, I hope.”

Janet’s smile faltered only slightly. “Well, there was an old photo in the first door,” she said. “Maybe there will be more treasures if you can get the other doors open.”

Jack nodded then walked into his room, closing his door behind him and leaving the advent calendar at his new mother’s feet.