Flash Fiction Challenge: The Secret Door

Relevant Chuck Wendig blog:

This is the Secret Door.

I want you to open it.

I want it to take you somewhere.

And I want you to write about where it takes you.

It’s that easy.

And that hard.

You have 1000 words.

Due in one week, by Friday, April 5th, noon EST.

Post at your online space.

Link back here.


Knock on the door.

Open it.

Write about it.


(author’s notes appear at the end)

…Gang aft agley

By J N Keir

Breaking Through, the High Art of Translocation, was always one of the more unsettling expressions of magic in the world. It was for Arnar, anyway. Breaking Through took time and patience and a cast iron stomach tough enough to boil all the fish guts in East Asia without cracking. Breaking Through meant concentration, it meant constructing careful metaphors to help keep things rational while the cosmos was sopped up in a thirsty sponge, wrung out into the black hole of the sink disposal and flushed out into the sewer. It meant staying clear of distractions and looking at everything out of the corner of your eye.

Sometimes it meant winding up in unsettling places doing things you can’t explain.

‘This place is infuriating,’ Arnar thought.

It was without a doubt an office building. From the careless tack strewn about it seemed like one of those upstart companies fueled by a big brain worked-up on its own ego, and plenty of loosely accounted investor dollars. The helter-skelter color scheme was an Easter-gasm of just plain awful, and it tickled Arnar’s urge to scream at everyone within earshot to get out before it all collapses in on itself in a fit of self-loathing. It didn’t matter, though; no one was within earshot.

Well, not quite. They were near enough, but not a soul was functioning on any level Arnar could discern. They were stuck fast in a quagmire of poor interior decorating, and time that just wouldn’t budge, helpless as roaches in a glue motel. The sounds of Arnar’s footfalls were caught up and incarcerated. Every door he passed was locked, even the ones labeled with the inoffensive gender figures that never seemed to be in much of a hurry to have a piss.

‘This infuriating place just isn’t quite right, either.’

It wasn’t, something about it smelled of a mock-up, a cocked-up mock-up. He found words written on the cover glass over a banal motivational photo poster:

People hate people for nothing at all

Our kingdom of love is ready to fall

Hate is the power which keeps them going on

—what more?

Arnar moved on, frowning. A disturbing, poster-sized image of a grinning NASCAR driver distracted him, and he stumbled into a recycling bin trying to mind its own business. He found himself staggering around it and into a stairwell where he caught himself against something that shouldn’t have been there.

The door stood plain and proper, out of place but beyond reproach. The knocker didn’t answer his fumbling attempts at cognitive acquisition. It dodged his exploratory touch and swung away, opening onto a frozen mountain.

‘Of course. Why wouldn’t that happen?’

Nonplussed, Arnar shouldered through and pulled his suit coat a little tighter. As soon as he crossed the threshold, the door vanished, leaving behind no trace of its presence in the snow. The lone building beyond was decorated with drawings of Teletubbies wrestling, or copulating. Perhaps both.

People here were no better off – their faces were little more than smears of pulpy flesh in all the wonderful earthly colors of pulpy flesh. They were just as stuck, some precariously, some awkwardly rolling oil drums, breaking littering laws, or snogging.

‘At least now it all makes a little more sense.’

The memory of his intent was working its way back into his conscious mind: the door was at least rational, even if the points it connected made no sense. The metaphor he used to channel his sorcerous ends had been disrupted, and his mind was running itself in loops while it sorted out the mess subconsciously. What or how it had happened still wasn’t clear. These things take some time to sort out.

Arnar trudged down a slippery trail away from the lone building, working his way around people caught up in various attitudes of locomotion. He didn’t pay them much mind. The trail ended in a small, snowy theater around a stage made up of natural stone and spring water – hot spring water. There was a splash and an inhuman giggle from beyond the rocks. Arnar tensed.

Settled around the edges of the spring pool were several small groups of Capuchins, monkeys that managed facial expressions of dignity and mindfulness. Expressions that masked a mischief that would put Irish faeries to shame.

‘I haven’t been to a Ryokan since 1983,’ Arnar thought, ‘and there weren’t any monkeys.’

A memory coalesced in his fore-brain. He was smoking a cigarette in a small South Korean city, leaning against the shell of a building he had gutted in person. It was an acquisition from about a month ago, and while the board members had all happily given up their shares in exchange for outrageous incentives, the president – grandson of the founder – was not going without a fight. He took exception to Arnar’s corporate piracy, the tactics he employed, the lawlessness with which the Viking acted his will upon others sailing the seas of big business. Arnar smiled as it dawned on him,

‘They aren’t Capuchins, they’re Dokkaebi. Not a real threat, but tricksy as all hell. Clever joust, Mr. Namguhng.’

Arnar took off his shoes and socks, discarded his coat and slacks, and clambered over the rocks into the pool with the monkeys.

“Well lads, lets have it then.”

The Capuchins turned their droopy stares to regard the Viking.

“People hate people for nothing at all

Our kingdom of love is ready to fall

Hate is the power which keeps them going on

It’s their motivation – but their feelings are gone,” Arnar recited.

One of the Dokkaebi screamed.

“Now that I’ve got your attention, let’s make a wager…”

Modern magic is a tricky beast. It takes time and patience and a cast iron stomach tough enough to boil all the fishguts in East Asia without cracking. Sometimes it means winding up in unsettling places doing things you can’t explain to yourself.

Author’s Notes:

This came together almost by accident. I guess that works, because I managed to flub my first secret door experience. I just wanted the tooltip to go away, not to go through a second time. Ah well, it worked out, the Capuchin monkeys gave me an idea. I drew upon Arnar Hjammerson to be the subject for this little debacle.

The poet-y stuff is credit Funker Vogt “Pure War”, which was playing on my stream when I clicked through the door the first time.