Editors note: The following is a serialized science fiction story by Adam Brewer. Part 3 is featured.
Three days out from Station Hermit, the ships that had fled were formed into a flock of ships. Some were colored brilliantly; others could only be seen only by the darkness that passed in front of stars. “The cold heart of space still beats” Pat thought. He leaned on the curved glass window that was in the crew cabins fiddling with a key and watching the stars go by.
The myriad colors of deep space gas lit the black world more beautifully than reality. Space was actually pitch black; it wasn’t anything like the cotton candy-colored clouds that Pat occasionally saw drift by. But the onboard windows did in real time what used to be done in an editing room, identifying each gas and giving it a color. The previous owner of the cargo ship had chosen a color pallet that focused on red and blue, but over the course of the past week the passengers had taken turns changing them to green, purple, orange, and heliotrope just for the sake of staving off boredom.
According to Dizzy, there was another week to the nearest way stop. Another week stuck in close courters with fifteen odd people, short rations, and the image of a closet clogging Pat’s thoughts. No matter where he went or how mesmerizing the gaseous clouds became his world was focused in the monochrome vision. The worst part was no matter how hard he tried the memory never faded. In fact, not a single moment from the past three weeks was even slightly blurry. It was as if it had all happened mere moments ago. It didn’t feel like it had been mere moments, it felt like a lifetime.
He turned and slapped the key onto a desk, startling a half dozing Calli with a “C”. Amazingly there were on the same ship two Calli’s, One spelled with a “C”, one with a “K”. Completely unrelated, what were the odds of that? “I’m going to take a walk” Pat told her as is she cared, and as if there was somewhere to go. She grunted in return and Pat went to walk around the ship. It wasn’t small technically, but there wasn’t a whole lot to do.
Then everything went still, Pat stood at a junction where a side hall joined the main passage. The silence was that of a half-remembered image out of a dream. And when he looked down the hall, it warped as if the walls and floor themselves were rushing at him. Pat felt a sense of dread coming from the hall, but he somehow knew that going that way was the only way to find out the truth. What truth he did not know. But he did know that there was some secret that was pressing its way into every corner of his life, and had been ever since he had met Tina, the woman from the bakery, three weeks ago. So he took one step after another down the passage. With each step it became more dank and grimier. The light grew ever darker until it was pitch black, but he could see as well as a sunny afternoon.
Then he came to a door.
He was pretty sure that if he was in a horror movie, thunder and lightning would have struck at that moment. It was a simple metal door. The handle was round and there were no markings on it. He came awake as if from nodding off and in his hand was a key.
He stared at the key. It was too heavy for its size. There was only one thing to do though, so he stuck the key in the lock and turned it.
Tina shook Patrick’s arm, and he heard her for the first time though it seemed like she had been saying his name over and over trying to get his attention. Startled, Patrick nearly jumped in the air.
“Sorry, what do you need, Honey?” The words were strange on his tongue, but they flowed naturally.
“I was just curious what you were doing with that old broom closet.” She nodded toward the closed door. Patrick looked back at what he had been doing, back at the rough wooden door with a rusty handle. “What were you doing with in the broom closet?”
Patrick looked back again at his wife. His wife? Yes, Tina his wife, how could he forget something like that? “Oh, you know I can’t remember. I feel like it’s on the tip of my tongue though, if I think about it I’m sure it will come to me,” He said.
Tina laughed her tinkling laugh and threaded her arm under his and pulled him toward the kitchen, past their sparce white living room. “Oh, you little rascals,” Tina scolded Alex and Sarah, their two youngest children who were busy sneaking freshly baked cookies off of the cooling racks. “Put those back, I told you ten minutes.”
The children scattered, giggling the whole while for the nearest escape and still clutching gooey cookies in their tiny hands. Tina let go of Patrick’s arm and gave a halfhearted chase around the kitchen saying “I’m gonna getya, I’m gonna getcha.”
Pat smiled. This was where he was supposed to be.
While Tina was busy chasing Alex, Patrick nabbed a cookie of his own and dashed out the door before hearing her say “Get back her Patrick Harry Howe!” He dashed down the hall and into the cozy living room, the blue walls filled with pictures of his family. That was when Tina caught him and spun him around. Before she had a chance to say anything silly about “ten minutes to cool” he gave her a hug and spun her off her feet. Definitely only to distract her from the fact that he was taking a bite of chocolate chip cookie at the same time. “I love you,” he said with a full mouth.
Patrick lay on the couch, one arm around Tina who rested her head on his shoulder. The kids had long since gone to bed for the night and it was about time they did the same. Tina had work in the morning, she still worked even though they lived extremely comfortably without it. When they had returned from Station Hermit seven years ago, and after they were engaged Tina had shared a secret with him. She had stowed with her stuff several rare minerals and rocks from half the galaxy away, on earth those same rocks truly were worth a fortune and they had sold them soon after.
“What if our children change? What happens if we don’t get along when they’re older?” Tina asked.
“That’s a strange question,” Patrick said.
“No, I’m serious.” Tina sat up. “What if little Sarah thinks we’re lame, what if Alex doesn’t like you?”
“Well Sarah could never think you’re lame. She adores you.”
In a flash Patrick saw a much older Sarah, tears streaking down her face. And then it was gone.
“I have a funny feeling it would be me to blame if we didn’t get along, anyhow.” Patrick said. “I just have to make sure that never” – Tears, so many tears – “Happens.”
Tina gazed fondly into his eyes and patted him on the knee, “I’m going to bed, I have work in the morning.”
“Okay, I think I just remembered what I was going to do with that broom closet.”
Patrick stood in front of the broom closet, the key that he had never picked up grasped between finger and thumb. There was something going on, something weird. And all of it centered around this closed door. Some things just didn’t make any sense. Patrick had a loving family, a great wife; but he could even remember his wedding. The years since he met Tina were blurry at best, and when he tried to focus on any specific detail it slipped away. It was as if he was in a dream, skipping around with no care for logic or time.
The key in his hand was another impossibility. He remembered clearly now that he had put the key down years before, no hours before, while on the ship. Just before he had wandered the ship, only to find the key in his hand once more when he needed to unlock something.
He was sure those weren’t the only strange occurrences. It was as if he was constantly glimpsing out of the corner of his eye something that shouldn’t be there. Whatever was going on, hallucinations, insanity, or amnesia, Patrick was going to figure out why his life had begun to behave more like a dream than reality.
Patrick slid the key into the lock, then he blinked.
One second, Patrick was in the hallway of his home, the next he was no longer holding a key, but rather a knife over a large white and gold wedding cake. There was a clapping all around him that seemed to get more enthusiastic with each moment. Patrick was in the middle of cutting the cake at his daughter’s wedding.
They were all gathered in a wide-open pavilion encircled by a manicured garden and tall trees that smelled of pine and oak. His little girl Sarah stood next to the man of her dreams, Daniel. It was strange to think that she was married now. A small girl, about nine years old carried the bouquet that she had caught a few minutes ago. She was beaming with excitement and eying each young lad her age.
No! something deep inside him yelled. This was wrong, but why? Patrick had been specifically asked to cut the cake. Not that! Remember the closet!
Patrick reeled backward and the cheering faltered. Sarah caught his arm and asked, “What’s wrong, Dad?”
“It happened again, Sarah. This is all wrong!”
“What’s wrong?” Sarah was beginning to look really concerned now.
“I shouldn’t be here; I should be at home getting ready for bed. And look at you! You’re all grown up, a few minutes ago I tucked you into bed!” Tina stepped out of the crowd and waved her arms to settle down.
“What my husband means to say,” She shot a meaningful glance toward Patrick, “is that it feels just like yesterday that our wonderful daughter was little. Children grow up too fast don’t they.” There was a round of agreements and Daniel’s father shouted, “I’d toast to that.”
“No, that isn’t what I mean at all, Tina. I mean that literally five minutes ago we sent the children off to bed. They have school in the morning, not a honeymoon.”
Sarah let out a nervous chuckle, “Dad? It’s me, your daughter. Remember, I grew up in the past few years.” To Tina, she asked “did he hit his head or something?”
Patrick dropped the knife next to the cake and stumbled away. Too much was happening for him to process all at once. As he was walking away, the world went gray for just a second and he heard Sarah shouting “I don’t ever want to see you again!”
Shocked, he turned around, but Sarah was just standing there next to her mother. She was beautiful in her white wedding dress, but all he could see was how impossible reality had become.
I have to go somewhere and think, he thought.
Deep within the gardens surrounding the pavilion, he found a bench and sat down. It wasn’t long until his thoughts were disturbed by Tina, coming to look for him. They must hate him, running off in the middle of his own daughter’s wedding celebrations. But just like years before outside that broom closet, he couldn’t remember any of the events leading up to the present time. It was as if there had been no time at all between then and now, as if in the span of an eyeblink years had passed without taking Patrick with them.
Tina sat down on the bench next to him, she didn’t say anything immediately. But she hugged his arm and rested her head on his shoulder.
“I’m scared.” Patrick told her. “I don’t understand what is happening to me.”
“What did you mean earlier, about what was it? Sarah having school in the morning? Tucking the children into bed?”
Patrick wasn’t sure of that himself. “When I look at Sarah, I see a stranger. She has my daughter’ face but I never watched her grow up. I can’t remember anything of the past ten years at least.” He paused. “What’s more, is this isn’t the first time this has happened; waking up in the middle of a strange place with no memory as to how I got there. And every time that it happens, I’m about to open that stupid closet.”
“The-the one that we keep our cleaning stuff in. Or maybe one on the ship we used to escape Station Hermit.”
“What’s so special about that closet, I haven’t been in there in years either, so what?” Tina looked like she was trying, but she clearly had no idea what he was getting at.
“I had a vision. It was of me hiding in some sort of cleaning closet. I saw it the moment I caught you when you jumped into the ship, since then I’ve seen other- strange things. Just now I heard Sarah screaming that she hated me, but when I turned around, she wasn’t saying anything.”
“Well, why would she hate you? You’re a great father,” Tina assured him.
Patrick didn’t know what to say to that, so he just kept talking. “I keep getting drawn to a closed door. And no matter what, I always have the key to unlock it. Even now I can feel the pull.” He pointed toward the club house down the road. “So, I have no choice, I need to understand what is going on, Tina. I have to go.”
“No wait, we can get you to a doctor. We can have them look at your head,” she suggested.
“No, I have to go.” Patrick stood up and walked down the road to where he sensed the closed door waited for him.
He asked an employee where their cleaning supplies were kept, and after a little convincing they showed him. “I can’t let you in if you don’t tell me what you want, sir,” the woman said.
“That’s fine, I just needed to know where it was.”
The woman looked at him like he was a little crazy but threw up her hands and walked away. Sure enough, the key was in Patrick’s hand when he went to unlock the door. It looked nothing like the last two doors, but he knew that it was the same one.
The key fit easily into the lock, and when he turned it he deliberately took a breath and blinked.
All of his doubts were washed away, when he opened his eyes to see that he was no longer at his daughter’s wedding. Without even stopping to wonder where exactly he was, he immediately sought for the door. He ran down halls, flung open doors, and even tried to intuit where the door was now. When he found it, he put in the key, and as quickly as he could opened the closet. Before the door was even an inch open the world changed yet again.
He ran in search of the door again, he refused to let this be. He would find out what was behind that door, and he wouldn’t rest until he knew. He tried over and over again to open it. Each time, he grew older, and each time the door barely opened until it was gone. Finally, Patrick collapsed to the ground. His joints ached, and his skin was wrinkled. What had he been thinking? He had known before that he had missed out on years of his life when he opened the closet, and yet he had kept trying. Had he wasted his life on something that he had no control over?
No, he had to be optimistic. Even though he didn’t remember the last few decades, if his wrinkled skin and grey hair were any indication, previously he had appeared in the midst of life as if he had actually lived it moment by moment. So, supposing “he” had made smart financial decisions he could enjoy the benefits of retirement without spending the years working every day in order to achieve it.
Patrick stood up and found that he was in his same house. Evidently, he had never moved. On the mantlepiece and on shelves around the living room were pictures of his family, though he was missing from many of them. But the moment he noticed, or rather thought about his lacking presence in the photos, they shifted and the next time his vision swept around the room he had appeared in every single picture. Patrick shook his head and rubbed at his eyes. Surely, he wasn’t imagining things. He was absolutely certain he hadn’t been in the photos.
“Tina,” he called. Nobody answered.
He left the living room and searched the house. It wasn’t until he had completed his search that he noticed something was missing, the constant feeling of the need to find the closet door was gone. He passed his own closet and when he tried the handle, he found that it was unlocked, and it swung smoothly open. Inside was a single broom, a trash bin, and an ironing board. Surely he hadn’t gone through this whole ordeal just to find the closet empty ad meaningless.
Patrick stepped inside the small, cramped room and felt at the walls. He pushed them to see if they had any secret buttons or compartments. He wrapped his knuckles against the plaster to see if they were hollow. But it was just an ordinary closet.
Frustrated, he stalked back into the living room and sat down on the couch, where according to his memory, he had spoken hours ago about the future of his children whom he had just sent to bed. What could he do now? He twiddled his fingers and whistled a long note that turned into a sigh. He nearly found himself nodding off like an old man might, but his mind was too busy to sleep. I guess I am an old man now, he thought to himself. That was a strange thought, everything considered he was taking it quite well. Especially since it felt just like yesterday, he had met the love of his life.
His gaze fell on a picture that he had missed earlier, it was of Tina when she was considerably older than he remembered her last. With nothing else to do, he stood and strode across the room to pick up the frame off of the mantle. His hand stopped inches away. To the left of the photo were written the words “In loving memory of Tina Howe”.
“N-no,” he said horrified. It couldn’t possibly be. “Oh, please let my wife be alive,” he sent a silent prayer to God. Tears began to blur his vision of the words, if only they could erase them entirely. Patrick clutched the photo to his chest and cried.
“Are you, sad?” a startlingly familiar, yet dissimilar voice startled Patrick from his grief. A hand plucked the photo from his grasp, even though Pat held it tightly. He whirled to see who had trespassed on his sorrow, and he stared not at a stranger, but himself as if in a mirror.
“No, not a mirror exactly,” The not-him said. Did he just read my thoughts! “Yes, I know everything that you know. You have no idea how strange that makes this conversation. Because while I know everything about you, I can’t understand you.”
Patrick whipped a tear off his cheek and reached for a tissue to blow his nose, only the living room was gone. It had been replaced by a room with a white floor, white walls, and no door. In the middle of the room, there was a single table and two chairs. “What is happening to me?” he nearly shouted. Anger that he hadn’t realized he’d been holding back growing hot within him. “Why is my life falling apart around me? Why do I keep seeing that stupid door? And what. Is going. On?” He gritted his teeth.
The man stared at him for a long second, not moving. Then he said, “Your life isn’t falling apart, in fact you are piecing together the fragments of mine.” He paced to the center of the room and motioned for Patrick to sit. When they had both sat, a look of concentration crossed the not-Patrick’s face. All around the room, small nick knacks and objects of all varieties popped into existence. One by one those objects changed from solid mugs, plants, and paraphernalia into paper origami replicas of the same objects.
“This,” The not-Patrick waved a hand over the room, “represents every major moment in your life or thing that is valued. It also represents every major moment in my life.”
“Excuse me, what?”
“This will be hard to understand, but I am you, this is a dream, and in real life I am nothing like the man I have crafted you to be.” The not-Patrick focused again and three nick knacks floated through the air to land on the table. Unlike the rest of the clutter, these weren’t made of paper. In fact, they were the realist things Patrick had ever seen, and he knew immediately what they were.
“That one represents the coffee shop where I- I mean we met Tina, doesn’t it? And that one represents the time when Tina made cookies when the kids were young and we had a good laugh, and that one is the time when Sarah got married! They’re all the days that I lived through! Why?”
“Because of all the moments in my life, they were the ones that I most regretted.”
“What?” Patrick asked astonished, “Those were some of the best moments of my life.”
“They weren’t- they weren’t always that way.”
“What do you mean?” Patrick asked suspiciously.
“I mean this.” Without warning the not-Patrick lunged at Patrick and smacked his palm against his forehead.
Patrick saw his life flash before his eyes, literally. Only it wasn’t the life he remembered; it was foreign to him. The world was gray, and it took him a second to realize that he was standing in Tina’s office on Station Hermit. He wanted to reach out and hug her, he was so relieved to see her alive. But when he tried his muscles wouldn’t cooperate. He stood there powerless as words he didn’t mean to say came out of his mouth.
“Thank you for your time, I appreciate your consideration,” he told Tina. It appeared like they were in the middle of a business discussion, but unwillingly Patrick slid an information probe into one of the ports on her computer. He was robbing her. He was robbing Tina.
The vision shifted and he was suddenly running for his life. Beside him was Tina, and he pointed the way into a hangar where a ship, the cargo ship he had escaped the asteroid attack in, was preparing for launch. A whistle blew behind them and a policeman called for backup.
The vision shifted again, and Patrick was huddled in a small broom closet, hiding. Beside him was Tina. “Why are you running?” he asked her.
“Someone stole valuable company secrets from my office, they blame me for the theft and want to put me in jail.” Oh no. Patrick had stolen from Tina and it had gotten her in trouble with the law. He had to confess, but when he tried to speak the words weren’t his own.
“I’m broke, to be honest.” He chuckled half-heartedly. “If I couldn’t find a job soon, I’d half to stow away anyway, so I guess you’re saving me the trouble of choosing a day.”
The vision faded and Patrick was once again faced with the not-Patrick.
“As I said before, we aren’t mirror copies of one another. I’m sure if the mirrors in here weren’t paper you could see your face has a great deal more laugh lines than mine. The truth is that I’m a terrible husband, I don’t love my wife. But I want to. It may be an old man’s senility, but whatever the reason I want to love something about my life before I die.”
“What does that have to do with me?” Patrick still wasn’t sure what was going on but he thought he’d play along.
“I lied to myself, in these dreams I rewrote critical moments in my relationship with Tina so that I loved her. I wasn’t sure it had worked until I showed you her death, I’m sorry I had to do that to you. Mind you, I don’t believe you are an entirely different person to me, granted different circumstances. And something you have to remember is that Tina is the same person in these dreams that she is in real life, I don’t want you to think I made you love a lie.”
That last sentence horrified Patrick. It meant that somehow, his past self hadn’t loved Tina for being who she was. “How could you not love her, she is a star,” he accused his double.
“You will remember all in due time, but that is not important right now. I’m sure you have many questions, in fact I know what all of them are, but ask them anyway.”
“Why did we relive Sarah’s wedding? it wasn’t important to Tina and my relationship.”
His double looked sad. “Because I never got to experience her wedding. I was, among other things, a terrible father. I wasn’t invited.”
“Well, what do I do now? What was the point of all this?”
“In a few minutes, you are going to walk through that door.” The double pointed and a replica of the closet door shimmered into being. “And you are going to do what I was unable to do. You are going to love your wife, and you will try to make amends with your daughter. Be the man that I was too selfish and prideful to be. That is what you are going to do.”
Patrick let out a long breath and sat back in his chair. His mind was racing with questions, but none of them seemed important enough to ask. What kind of man had he been, how bad could he be that he had to fiddle with his own brain to feel remorse?
He didn’t feel like talking to himself anymore, he didn’t like what he saw in him. It may not have been a mirror, but he could still see the worst parts of who he was manifested in that face. Maybe it was a little bit of self-loathing from his years in reality waking up to see a failure and a liar in the looking glass.
Whatever he said, Patrick was a different man now. And not entirely because his circumstances had changed.
“I think I’ll just go now,” he said bitterly. “I don’t feel like spending any more time with you.” He opened the door in silence, and the double didn’t say anything more. But at the last second he wondered. “What will happen to you once I go through this door?”
“I die. Hopefully.”
Patrick walked through the door.
The door was open at last, and from it leapt memories like curses out of Pandora’s box. Escaping Station Hermit not because of a meteor, but because he had squandered all his money and stolen food to survive. Then stolen from Tina of all people. Rather than spend jail time, he had stowed away on a ship leaving for Earth and spent the journey in the cramped closet he now had opened. He remembered that he hadn’t loved Tina when he met her, they had only married because she had fled Station Hermit on the same vessel with stolen valuable stones. They were more partners in crime than anything else, at least that was how Patrick had seen it. Their children hadn’t loved him, they weren’t like their mother. They had given up on their sad excuse for a dad by the time they were ten years old. And the last memory hit the hardest, he was dying without a hope of reconciliation with any of them.
And then there was a memory beyond all of those. Patrick had never meant to change his life forever. He had written these memories and the need to come to terms with them into every moment of this long dream. He had driven himself back to the beginning and by doing so didn’t change the ending, he had given himself a new perspective that he could never have had before.
Patrick closed the door, and with it went the self-imposed prison of his lifelong hatred at life. He kept the rest.
To be continued…