The sacred duty of every door spirit is to let in what must be let in, to keep out what must be kept out, and faithfully guard the threshold of all things. How well they uphold the integrity of the passage will be reflected in their next life.
The door spirit first came into being at the hands of the coffinmaker, yawning into planks of cypress heartwood the ruddy color of a lion’s mane. Unaware of the spirit he’d conjured, the coffinmaker continued cutting and sanding the cypress into sturdy panels, shaping the door’s fine arched head and fitting it with iron.
The door spirit already felt lucky to inhabit such a door in his very first life, but the construction wasn’t complete. Once the coffinmaker was satisfied with his part, he placed the door in the hands of the pyrographer.
With precision, the pyrographer seared and carved images into the panels—of people holding orbs of light and passing them to others, of butterflies taking flight, of flowers ringing in the breeze, of sunshine and moonlight and stars shining in the dark.
Once installed, the door spirit saw that his fine door separated their basement workshop from the rest of the house. Deeper in the basement hung another door (housing its own door spirit, though it was too far away to converse) through which the bodies entered and exited. Inside the workshop, the coffinmaker cleaned and dressed the bodies before carefully placing them inside the coffins he made. The pyrographer carved and burned lush designs into the lids—each one personalized to reflect something the recently deceased had loved. Flowers, musical instruments, children. Cake.
The work done by the two craftspeople, husband and wife, seemed to soothe those the deceased left behind. Mourning family members, wearing their best clothes and beautiful in their sorrow, thanked them over and over, certain that their loved ones would have been pleased with the magnificent vessel charged with holding their earthly form.
Everyone who approached the hall marveled over our door spirit’s door and couldn’t stop themselves from touching the rays of the sun that the pyrographer had so carefully burned across the panels, as though they expected to feel warmth through their fingers. If he could have, the door spirit would have glowed with pride.
The coffinmaker and the pyrographer were serious with their work but never with each other. Their laughter echoed down the hall, sending a warm vibration through the door spirit’s frame. Their daughter, a child with dark hair as curly and long as the shavings the pyrographer teased from wood, drooled everywhere. Everywhere. And before the door spirit knew it, she could toddle-walk on her own.
Door Friend, the daughter called the door spirit’s cypress heartwood form. She was very clever, quietly fetching a small waste bin—carrying it rather than dragging so her parents wouldn’t hear—and then carefully flipping it upside down to use as a stool to reach the doorknob. But the door spirit’s form had a lock, and he remained firm: no entry to the workshop without one of your parents. This vexed her intensely.
Hate you, she’d say, slapping her hand against him.
But the relief panels the pyrographer had meticulously carved always won her over, always brought her back from her tantrum. Her favorite panel, the lowest one on the left, depicted a stunning lily of the valley ringing its cup-like bells, swaying heavy with drops of rain while the sun emerged from the clouds. Fingers sticky, the daughter would trace the flowers over and over to the point where one actually fell off, and the pyrographer had to secure it back on with a thin layer of polymer pitch. The daughter would grip her dolls by the legs and hold them up to the panel so that it looked as though they were dancing among the flowers after the rain.
Her parents embraced her love for her favorite door to great effect. Door Friend says you need to wear both socks. Door Friend says it’s time to be quiet now. Door Friend says you need to go to bed.
The pyrographer would pat the door spirit’s form affectionately, as though they were teammates commiserating a long practice, and in quiet moments would gently cleanse his panels with lemon oil and wipe away any dust. Though door spirits went unseen and unheard by most in the mortal realm, our door spirit believed in his core: this is my family.
Then something happened—what, the door spirit could not say, for door spirits can see nothing beyond the sight of the threshold they’re tasked to guard. But the coffinmaker became very busy, and started wearing a scarf around his nose and mouth.
He rushed to make coffins for old people, for young people, for very young people. The pyrographer stopped visiting him in the workshop. She, their daughter in her arms, would only knock at the door periodically to plead with her husband to take care of himself and get some sleep, while he would stand on the other side and insist he was fine. The pyrographer’s face started to look flushed, sweating.
Then mother and child stopped coming down the hallway altogether. Sent away, the door spirit hoped. Sent to wherever the air was cleaner and less heavy with death.
The coffinmaker continued his work. Slowly he stopped wearing his scarf, stopped bathing, stopped eating. Eventually clients stopped coming, and the only sounds that echoed in the basement came from the coffinmaker himself, muttering strange things under his breath and hammering at wood that looked ready to crack. Alone.
Then the coffinmaker took his time with three coffins with an attention to detail that made the door spirit hopeful that maybe he had returned to himself, though the muttering continued. The wood the coffinmaker selected shone gorgeous, deep rich red, the fittings immaculate. He sanded and polished the lids until they gleamed under candlelight.
For the first time in days, the coffinmaker pushed his hand upon the cypress door and traced his fingers down the masterpiece he and the pyrographer had made to protect their wayward child. Then he disappeared down the hallway.
When he returned, he carried a body in his arms as though he were carrying a bride. The door spirit didn’t recognize the pyrographer at first, and when he did, he didn’t want to.
No, the door spirit whispered as the coffinmaker placed the pyrographer’s body into one of the coffins. And then louder, when the coffinmaker walked down the hallway again: NO.
Please don’t come back, the door spirit pleaded as the coffinmaker reentered the hallway. He wanted the coffinmaker to keep walking, to leave and never return. Don’t come—
But the coffinmaker did come back. He’d wrapped the small body in his arms with their daughter’s favorite blanket. As he muttered to himself the sheet shifted, opening to a precious mess of dark curly hair, frosting overflowing a piping bag.
Something inside the door spirit splintered as the coffinmaker lowered the small body into the coffin.
But I was locked, the door spirit thought desperately. I was locked. What did I let in?
The coffinmaker stared inside the open coffins for a long time. The door spirit, making a last terrible realization, wailed, begged the coffinmaker not to do what he suspected he would. His cries slipped into the shadows, unheard.
Life is nothing, the coffinmaker said bitterly into the stale air as he slammed and sealed his family away. Nothing but a series of closing doors.
Then he climbed into the third coffin, and shut the lid.
The door spirit was alone for a long time after that.
Some describe bitterness as a dry element, brittle and sharp. But no one starts out that way. Certainly not the door spirit. If anything, the sorrow he felt in that abandoned hallway waterlogged him, flooded his broken heartwood heart until he swelled three times his size.
Only over time, with nothing to keep him company except for the cold and the smell and the coffinmaker’s final words did the door spirit dry, shrink, warp.
The coffinmaker had outdone himself when he’d fashioned that cypress heartwood. It took many years for the walls to finally collapse, and the door with them.
In his second life the door spirit inhabited the front door of a suburban home. He hated it. He hated the fake, hollow, mass-produced material he was trapped in, he hated how the sun shone on him in the morning, he hated the ridiculous wreaths—not even made with real branches or leaves—the mother kept trying to hang on him. He hated the noisy children and the briefcase-carrying father and all their horrid visitors. He just hated.
He stuck. His hinges shrieked no matter how often they were oiled. He kept children waiting to see their grandparents and thwarted the mother who hauled groceries and toddlers at the same time and who just needed the key to the front door, just needed one goddamn thing, please to work without a fight.
He’d allow the lock to turn sometimes by jiggling, sometimes by lifting and shifting to the right, sometimes only in the tenth time of trying the same method. He slammed shut without any wind.
One day he heard the mother say on the phone, “When a door closes, a window opens.”
What good are windows?, the door spirit thought with rancor. Nothing but holes to jump out of.
A carpenter finally advised the family that really, they were better off destroying this door and installing a better one.
The door spirit was reborn into a public women’s restroom stall door, into cheap metal that showed all the oily fingerprints and lewd graffiti of the day. He cast off every hook the maintenance person tried to screw into him, forcing his occupants to fling purses and cloaks awkwardly over him.
Or they’d try. He’d slide their belongings into puddles of muddy shoe water and urine anyway. Visitors had to have a friend hold his door in place; otherwise he would suddenly swing inward and the entire point of a bathroom door would be defeated.
The other door spirits in the neighboring stalls accused him of betraying their sacred duty. They declared him a disgrace—which was really saying something, considering that three out of the seven of them had malfunctioning locks, all had a disturbingly laissez-faire attitude toward lingering smeared feces and menstrual blood and none could be bothered to hang fully straight on their hinges.
Their admonishments only hardened the door’s worst thoughts — that the world was bad, and the best you could hope for was to lock it out. Close yourself before it closed on you.
Sometimes at night he’d slam and slam and slam, and slam, each one loud as a shot, scaring the—well—out of any unfortunate lone visitors.
The other door spirits warned him: he shouldn’t assume it couldn’t get worse.
He was reborn into the realm of cats.
This needs no elaboration. You know exactly what the door spirit’s life was like. It got worse.
At some point, the door spirit must have suffered enough, and he was reborn into an old man’s textured-glass sliding shower door. Which was a mercy, considering how long he’d been tortured with claws hooking under his frame and tugging and pushing open, close, open, close, open.
The old man kept his TV on all day with a constant stream of police shows and sensational 24-hour news, and kept the volume cranked so high that the door spirit could hear every word.
If the door spirit hadn’t been convinced before, now he was certain that people really did not design bathrooms with the care that they should, considering how frequently they were needed and the strife that they caused.
Each elimination was a struggle for the old man. Sitting down and standing back up again was a torture, a groan or whimper accompanying every reach for the toilet tissue.
An adroit son-in-law had installed a handle by the shower door, and the old man would grip it with both hands to lift his leg and step into the tub.
Looking at the crusted spots on his back and buttocks the old man couldn’t reach to clean, the door spirit thought of disease. Thought of how many soiled old bodies came to the coffinmaker, and how he would clean them with sponge and soap so gently, as though he were washing children up for bed. Thought of how easy it was for people to get sick and die.
The door spirit resented how his current form was frosted glass; sure, people couldn’t see wholly through him, but they could see the general shapes of the things he held inside and he resented it.
The door always knew when one or more of the man’s adult children were due to visit by how the man forced a scrubber over every surface, sometimes crying out in pain from the effort but determined to conceal any evidence that he needed help.
Yet, the old man responded viciously when his children urged him to bring someone in to help him or consider a “senior living facility.” Or to at least stop driving.
Not the door spirit’s problem. There was nothing about the old man—who would inevitably die, just like the coffinmaker, just like the pyrographer, just like—
Anyway. There was nothing about the old man that the door spirit considered worth helping.
Yet for some reason, when the old man wretchedly reached for the door’s metal lip, his hands shaking, the door spirit could not bring himself to jam or screech as he had in his previous lives. Weak as the old man was, his shower door slid open and closed easily along the groove every time.
It would be too much hassle to torment the old man, the door spirit told himself.
Still, something bad was bound to happen, and when it did, it happened quick. One day, despite the textured sticky pads that coated the bottom of the tub, the old man slipped.
Some young instinct flung the old man’s hand out to catch the shower door, but his weight tore the door spirit’s form from its frame. The already-bad fall was about to become even worse —
— but in a decision that he couldn’t fully think through, the door spirit pitched himself away, wedging the glass door against the back wall of the tub.
So instead of cracking his head open on the porcelain sink, the old man hung on to the door spirit’s mangled form, cat clinging to a tree limb. Then he slowly sank down over the tub rim and onto the bathmat.
Horrible purple bruises bloomed across his calves and up his torso from knocking into the tub and walls, and the old man’s daughter found him still there on the floor, crying and horribly embarrassed an hour later. But the old man had not hit his head, which the door spirit knew would have been worse.
A short time later, a caseworker led the man’s children into the bathroom, her pen poised over a notebook. “Right there,” the caseworker said, and their eyes all followed the point of her pen to the sliding shower door still wrenched askew, “is a hazard.”
In his next life, the door spirit was born into the faux-wood door of a college dorm room occupied by a young woman with dark tight curly hair that looked just like—
Anyway. She had a roommate at first, but the roommate unofficially moved in with her boyfriend off campus.
The curly-haired girl opted to keep her door closed, which was just fine by the door spirit. Last thing he needed was some extrovert with friends coming and going through him at all hours.
…Except that the curly-haired girl would stare for ages at nothing, her laptop open to a blank page and a blinking cursor. Assignments would be due, and she would just…not do them, and keep sitting alone. Some unnamed sorrow wrapped around her neck like a lead scarf, choking her.
She tried to reach out to her parents, but their panic only upset her more. It’s not like I’m crying all the time Mom, she hissed into the phone, betrayed that her parents reacted so strongly. It’s just…never mind.
Then she started muttering to herself. This alarmed the door spirit, who’d seen a similar paralyzing sadness in the coffinmaker.
There’s no point to expecting anything different, the door spirit thought firmly to himself. Life is nothing but a series of closing doors.
But then the door spirit noticed that another young woman, this one with straight orange hair, would pause for a moment whenever she passed by the curly-haired girl’s door, as though she recognized something inside.
Somewhere in his non-existent grain, the door spirit sensed that this girl could be trusted. So the next time she hesitated, the door spirit slid his bolt out of the strikeplate, as though the curly-haired girl hadn’t entirely closed it. The door eased open, and sure enough, the orange-haired girl took this as an invitation to poke her head in and say hello.
The two surface-chatted for a bit, the curly-haired girl polite but terse. But sadness can be tough to keep to yourself, and in a rush the curly-haired girl admitted: I’m not OK.
The orange-haired girl did not recoil. She only shut the door behind her so they could talk privately. The door spirit was astonished by the bang of relief he felt, so intense that his frame shivered.
Miraculously, a night of me-toosand sames ensued, both girls sitting cross-legged on the curly-headed girl’s patterned bedspread. I don’t know anyone here like I did at home. It’s not what I expected. I feel like an idiot in all my classes. I either want to scream or I feel nothing.
I used to be worse, the orange-haired girl said. It turned out she saw a therapist off-campus who used a sliding scale for payment.
Come with me? She asked shyly. Even if you don’t want to make an appointment it would be nice not to be alone on the bus.
To the door spirit’s eternal, exuberant and exhaling relief, the curly-haired girl agreed.
The door spirit couldn’t say that there was a cure for sadness. At one point the orange-haired girl had to soothe the curly-haired girl in her arms for hours. Into the gaps between her gummy sobs, the orange-haired girl whispered comfort: I think everyone has stuff where it’s like, oh no, that’s totally your fault. But you can’t control it all, right? No one can.
Slowly, slowly, the curly-haired girl regained a light in her eyes. She worked at her assignments and in time recovered her grades. The orange-haired girl came over a lot, and though neither of them had many friends they laughed enough for a hundred. The sound, startling, sparkling, turned something over inside the door spirit like a spade in earth.
The curly-haired girl even started leaving her door open more often, inviting others in. Another astonishment: the door spirit didn’t mind at all.
Like, my brain is always going to have bad stupid thoughts? the red-haired girl said. They lay on the curly-haired girl’s bed with their legs up against the wall. It sucks.
It sucks, the curly-haired girl echoed, agreeing. Dramatically, with their hands in the air, laughing: Everything sucks!
Leaning forward so their foreheads touched: But I love you.
Her curly hair hanging down over the mattress, the huge grin on her face—for a moment the door spirit thought he saw another face there, one he had tried so hard not to think about for such a long time.
There’s no point, he thought. No point, no —
Yet the door spirit still cried for days, unheard by the mortal world, mourning that the coffinmaker’s daughter never got to grow up, navigate an adult life, find a companion, laugh through her pain. Lamenting that the pyrographer didn’t live long enough to witness her daughter earn such triumphs. Wondering why the coffinmaker couldn’t have found a connection like this to help him heal, wondered what the difference was, what the reason was.
When someone down the hall forgot to put out their clandestine cigarette, and the fire spread down the entire wing, the door spirit almost leapt from his hinges in fear at the sound of the alarm and smell of the black smoke, dreading all the bad things he wouldn’t be able to keep out for long.
But the young women had been drilled all their lives for alarms, and they knew exactly how to hurry but not rush, how to open the door and check down the hallway for their bearings. The last he saw of them, the two were making an orderly way to the fire exit with the other students, holding each other’s hand, leading each other away from the smoke.
The man banged on him, screaming that he’d tear the door down, you fucking bitch, you crazy psycho bitch, and when he got his hands on her —
The mother only had time to wedge a rickety chair under the doorknob. The door spirit’s current form wasn’t so sturdy. Thin wood, old lock hanging mostly out of the mold with plenty of dents and cracks from other times the man had forced his way into the small cluttered bedroom.
The door spirit always tried to obstruct the man’s entry but sometimes the man got through before the mother could close him completely; sometimes the man’s strength simply overwhelmed the door spirit’s lean door and pushed in; sometimes the mother hit the door and cursed just as hard; sometimes the mother let the man in. The exasperated neighbors had already told the mother they wouldn’t bother calling the police anymore, since she kept coming back and refusing to press charges. The mother had cussed them out, saying it wasn’t their business.
You’re the one choosing to stay, the neighbors warned her, washing their hands. The woman could expect no help from them tonight.
The door spirit couldn’t judge. He knew better than most that you didn’t need a physical door to feel as though you had no exit.
But the air was heady that night, electrified, lightning about to strike an open field. He’ll kill her, the door spirit knew. The mother had a wrenching task, to gather her two sons, carry one in her arms and rouse the other one enough to take her hand.
The door spirit stared at the window, thought of the suburban mother’s—
—and in the middle of all this, the door spirit truly hoped the suburban mother got a better door, a much better door, the best door, after enduring him, how horrible he was—
expression. Strictly speaking the door spirit still didn’t think it was correct, but he’d play his role if the window would only play theirs. The mother yanked up the sash.
The man on the other side continued to slam into the door, furious, trying to break the door spirit from the hinges.
The chair clattered to the floor, and the mother turned around in horror for what would be coming through for her, for her children.
Long ago the door spirit couldn’t keep out what should have been kept out, and bad things happened. Here, too, he knew he couldn’t withstand the man beating on his door; the man would get inside. And bad things would happen. It was inevitable.
But something had shifted inside the door spirit, unseen but activated. Something that made him glare back at that inevitability. He imagined himself waterlogged, swelling into the frame, immovable.
No matter how the man flung himself, no matter how hard he struck with his fists, fractured the paltry wood, he could not break through.
Anxiously, the door spirit watched the mother and sons disappear through the window into the inky night. He strained to listen over the man’s expletives; fearful of hearing the tree limb snap or the thud and cry of someone falling. Thankfully, there was nothing.
The man finally split the door down the middle and sent the round doorknob flying, but whatever he saw when he rushed to the open window made him curse and scream with rage. (The door spirit would have loved it if the man had tried to follow, since the tree definitely couldn’t support his weight and the man would surely be severely injured from the attempt, but unfortunately the man wasn’t as stupid as would have been convenient.)
Hanging there, cracked and splintered, the door spirit started to feel the hazy light that always lifted him from his current life and into his next creeping into his frame. Not yet, the door thought, to whoever was listening, to himself. The man was still after the mother and children and every second counted. The door spirit had known it was his sacred duty to keep the man out. Now he would keep him in.
As the man strode toward him the door spirit combined the last of his strength with the gust from the window and put everything into one final swing shut, making perfect contact with the strikeplate and sealing the man inside. Without the doorknob that the man had struck off earlier, and in his state of fury, he had to awkwardly wrestle with all the door spirit’s slivered, akimbo boards.
It wouldn’t work for long, the door spirit knew. As he faded from the broken wood, the door spirit wished and wished and wished, painfully aware he would never know for sure if they escaped, if they truly ran and never came back: please. Please let another door open to them and keep them safe. Please let the time he was able to give them be enough.
He was reborn into not one, but two adolescent maple trees. The young couple planted them (him) in front of their house, parallel to the sides of their front door.
Planting two trees that will grow into an arching arbor “door” is a tradition for the newly married, the man said confidently, as though he were reciting something from a textbook.
Then he and the woman laughed: neither recalled exactly where the “tradition” came from or if they’d gotten it mixed up with something they’d seen in a movie. But they very much liked the idea of it, anyway.
They had twin daughters. When they were old enough to play in the yard, each claimed one of the door spirit’s trees as her own. The girls thought maple tree seeds were magic, throwing them up in the air and watching them cascade down like plane propellers. They embraced the gap between the trees, calling it The Magic Threshold. During their games they’d hop in and out: Now I’m in the past. Now I’m in the future. Now I’m on the moon.
Wandering cats gave the door spirit a knowing sneer as they slinked by, clearly enjoying how his branches shook every time he saw them. But to the great vexation of every tabby, every squirrel and chipmunk who scrambled up one of the door spirit’s trees escaped their feline pursuers. In the face of those thwacking, irritated tails, the door spirit felt as though he’d gotten one over the cats at last.
Time passed, years. The daughters, once they were women, moved out and really only came back for holidays.
Then, tragedy: one of the daughters died in a war the door spirit understood nothing about. To lose another daughter pained the door spirit so much he had trouble keeping his leaves attached to his branches. But he did. It was fall when the hearse and procession drove by the daughter’s home to say goodbye, and like a painter pulling paint from a palette the door pulled the most vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges into his form’s leaves: an offering of beauty to her parents and sister, a last salute to his charge.
Over time the couple spent less and less of their day outside, leaving mostly only to visit their surviving daughter, who lived in a different state and ran her own garden center and landscaping business.
The couple grew older and older. When they passed, the door spirit, his trunks thick and round with age, expected his time serving as this entry and exit-way was over—and what good had he done in this life, anyway? —yet something held him back.
He noticed a car kept stopping in front of the house, and then leaving. The surviving daughter, he realized, spotting her face through the windshield. She continued with this ritual, only after a while she changed it to getting out of the car, standing there for several minutes, and then getting back in her car and driving away. For some reason, she could not bring herself to enter the house.
Finally one early spring day, she stood in front of the door spirit’s trees. Just as she was about to turn and head back to her car, the door spirit gave his branches a good shake, causing a pelt of maple seeds to cascade down and bop off her head.
The daughter jumped, stared at the seeds clunked down into her palm, and then her face performed something like a smile. She put one hand on each trunk—her arms long enough and his trunks wide enough now that she could reach—and laughed. Was she thinking of how her sister would collect maple seeds, generous girl, and throw them at her sibling in attack? Of running around the yard? Sitting across from each other, a back against each trunk? The Magic Threshold hosted dolls and dolls and so many dolls and then, as they grew older, secrets, whispers about nothing and everything.
As though she’d caught a wind current, the daughter slid her hands off and headed toward the house. Went inside. The door spirit watched her through the front-facing windows touching things, and then hurrying for the tissue box her mother always kept by the lamp. That was all the daughter could do that day.
But she came back the next week, with boxes. Don’t worry, she assured someone on the other side of her mobile, I need to do this on my own.
It was very hard for her. Sometimes the door could hear her crying inside for hours. He was grateful for whoever the daughter called on the phone, since they seemed to help. And so little by little, the door spirit watched the daughter clear the house of her parents, the house of her youth, the house where her sister would pull her hair and kiss her cheek in the same hour. She went through every drawer, every clothes hanger, every document, settling the things to give away, the few boxes of things to keep.
One day, after the house had been emptied, she brought a trowel and kneepads. With the same patience once exercised by her parents, she dug into the grass between and around the door spirit’s tree trunks, overturning the soil.
When she removed a palette of flowers from her car, the door spirit felt a jolt from branch to root. For in her arms the daughter carried over a dozen lilies of the valley, the lush green of their leaves a joy against the white of their flowers.
I always hoped some would find their way over here on their own, on the wind, but I guess I have to plant them myself, the daughter said as she set the mass of them into the earth—maybe to him, maybe as a prayer. They like partial shade. I love when people bring them home from the center.
She patted one of the door spirit’s exposed roots. Do you know what lilies of the valley mean?
The door spirit didn’t. He was still astonished by the sight of those white bell flowers. To see them ringing again felt as though a missing part of him, something as essential as sun and rain and earth, had been returned. The daughter gently watered the new transplants that rang all around him, the water rolling off the bells.
The moment the daughter spoke the meaning of lilies of the valley aloud the door spirit felt a key turn, and the pyrographer’s steady hand on him again, felt the warmth of her smile and the wish, the promise she’d crafted into his very soul with fire and chisel.
They mean happiness will return.
The day she set up the SOLD banner the daughter visited the door spirit’s trees a last time. Don’t grow over the house, she whispered, leaning her shoulder against “her” trunk as always. Don’t worry, someone new will love you.
This, the door spirit realized, was why he was meant to stay. There was more than one way a door could open to something interior. He didn’t want the daughter to leave him, wanted her to stay here forever, but he knew he had to let her go.
The door spirit thought of the coffinmaker, who could not move past his grief but was crushed under the weight of it, and for the first time felt no heat or anguish from it. How easy it was, to close a door. How easier it was, to lock it.
The door spirit wondered at all the kinds of pain in the world. He’d been denied watching the coffinmaker and pyrographer’s daughter and this daughter’s twin sister grow up, live their lives and eventually bury their parents. That was the order in which life was supposed to unfold. And yet here, things had gone that way, with an adult child burying her parents, and there was still so much sadness.
Why, the door spirit wondered, why was being alive in the world a journey of navigating loss?
He didn’t have an answer, at least not one that felt true. He could only say that everyone needed help sometimes, that things went easier when people accepted it, and that in the long run helping felt better than making things worse.
I’m heading out, the adult daughter texted to her friend, or maybe her partner. Just saying goodbye. She stood before the door spirit straight, her sadness still present but no longer holding sway over her spine. You grew up, she said, looking up into the door spirit’s limbs, fingertips against his bark light as butterfly wings.
The door spirit extended his branches gently, touched a burst of wide green leaves to her outstretched fingers. So have you.
She gave one last hop, a big one, over the lilies of the valley, over The Magic Threshold, and off she went, to some other world he couldn’t see. When he watched her drive away, a peace—one he hadn’t felt since the coffinmaker smiled and patted him into place—misted over him like rain.
Contrary to what the daughter hoped, the new homeowners found nothing charming about two wide maples blocking the view of their house from the curb, and cut both the door spirit’s trees down before the ink was dry on the sale.
That’s all right, the door spirit thought, even in the face of the saw, in the face of boot treads crushing the lilies. This happens. A truth washed over him, refreshing as water: that every moment was a beginning and an end, an entrance and exit, an open, a close. Happiness will return.
In his final life, the door spirit entered the realm with no name, the realm of time and memory. Door spirits gathered together like trees in a forest, left and right, up and down. Chattering like sparrows with so much to share.
To his great and sorrowful delight, the door spirit found himself home in cypress heartwood once again, each of his panels touched by the lives he’d led and carved with the pyrographer’s flourish. The images pierced him with longing that squeezed like a fist and swelled like stains in wood. Maple seeds spiraling like propellers. A lock of curly hair. A sturdy metal frame. A supremely gaudy plastic wreath that the door spirit accepted he deserved. A tree branching to safety. Inevitably, inexorably: cat fur.People holding orbs of light and passing them to others, of sunshine and moonlight and stars shining in the dark. And in the lowest panel on the left, the print of a small familiar hand, proof of a bond eternal. Door friend.
Could our door spirit really rest here? Here, where he was never alone, opening and closing to things in time unseen but deeply felt, deeply realized, deeply remembered?
You’ve done well, his fellow spirits assured him. You’ve done so well.
And there, his sacred duty performed, the door spirit felt the greatest joy a door could ever feel — a joy with no locks, all threshold. Open to all.
Copyright 2024 E.A. Petricone
About the Author
E.A. Petricone writes dark and strange things. Her work has appeared in Apparition Literary Magazine, Strange Horizons, All Worlds Wayfarer, Metaphorosis, Liminality, and other marvelous places. Her story in Nightmare Magazine, “We, the Girls Who Did Not Make It,” won the 2021 Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novelette.