This story available on Nov 21, 2020
Behind the Green Door
It really happened. No matter what anyone says, I know it did. And, it still is. Out there, somewhere, behind the green door.
The fog of our breath seemed to merge with the mist that was slowly creeping up our legs as it filled the pathways between the tower blocks. The orange glow of the lights, those that worked, wasn’t harsh like it usually was, but diffuse and ghostly.
I wasn’t shivering just for the cold that night. I should’ve stayed in. But, Steve has a way of talking you into doing things you shouldn’t. Had.
“You’ll like this: I’ve got a jemmy.” Steve held up the length of metal for us like it was a valuable treasure to admire. Then, he laughed, and said something like, “A little light housebreaking, eh?”
I wasn’t keen – tagging a wall was one thing; nobody cares, but theft…? – but, Steve just brushed my worries aside and Zane laughed and we reached the block. It was like a tower out of a nightmare, looming and stark.
Zane got the door open. It resisted at first, then moved without any effort so that it crashed against the wall. The sound echoed up the tower. I winced, but Zane laughed.
Steve pushed his way inside and Zane bounded after him. I followed behind.
Steve turned to us. “Stairs or lift?”
“Stairs.” I didn’t even need to consider: The last time I rode in the lift, it stank like a toilet. Zane, of course, just had to recount a story of catching some old tramp in there, trousers round his ankles, using it as one.
The stairwell smelt almost as badly.
Our footsteps echoed up around us, so that it sounded as if a horde of people were tramping up-and-down the stairs.
Over his shoulder, Steve relayed his plan, saying, “There’s a guy up on the eighth floor has some nice gear and works nights.” He waved the jemmy about. “Reckon we could get a great score.”
Of course, if we got caught, Mum was gonna kill me.
Zane shoved me and told me to stop being a wuss and we continued up the stairs without speaking, our footsteps still echoing around us.
On the eighth floor, Steve led us into one of the wide corridors into which the doors to flats opened. The lights illuminating it were flickering, sending shadows dancing past the doors.
Now, I think about those shadows, I –
Steve was about to point out the flat we wanted when he pointed at a different door, near the end of the passage, instead. It was a bright green one with a golden handle and door knocker.
“Somebody thinks they’re too good for this place,” he said. “Let’s trash it.”
Zane chuckled an agreement.
“What if they’re home?” It was the obvious question, but what was really bugging me was the way the door seemed to be squashed in between two others, as if it didn’t belong.
But, Steve ignored me and raised his jemmy like a sword. “To battle!”
He thrust the narrow end in between the door and its frame, but, before he could lean on the shaft, the door just swung open, as if someone had opened it from inside. There was no-one there and Steve tumbled in, practically falling straight on his face.
Zane laughed as, swearing, Steve pulled himself back up onto his feet.
Normally, I would’ve, too, but I didn’t see the humour, just felt tense, and more than a little amazed.
Behind the green door, there was a long corridor carpeted in a verdant green with walls covered by wallpaper decorated with interlacing vines of lush-green ivy. Overhead, the ceiling was painted a deep midnight blue and speckled with stars.
I swore. It was unbelievable.
Steve tried to act as if he were unaffected by both his fall and the corridor, while Zane pulled out a spray can and, laughing, pushed past him.
I couldn’t believe they hadn’t grasped the peculiarity of it all: Zane was tagging the wall, while Steve watched.
“Hey, guys!” I had to shout to get their attention. Maybe they were pretending not to see it. “Haven’t you noticed?”
“What?” Steve snapped.
It was hard to explain. “This hallway’s… odd. Look at it – where are the doors? And, it’s way too long…”
They looked. I think Steve already knew and I saw it register on Zane’s face, like a dim bulb faltering into life.
We’d all grown up on the estate, all knew what the flats were like inside – they’re all basically the same – and, there was no way the length of that corridor could fit inside the block.
Yet, it did.
Steve shook his head, saying, “It’s impossible.”
Zane stared for a moment, then dropped his spray can and pushed past me and ran back out through the green door. We should’ve done the same.
Only, that’s not how Steve is. Was.
He shouted, “Coward!” after Zane and ignored my protestations that we ought to follow him, saying, “Dammit, blud, aren’t you curious? This place is mad – we gotta take a look.”
I glanced back at the door, then surrendered, and followed after him as he set off down the corridor.
It stretched on for far too long. I know it makes me sound mad, or high, but it’s the truth, I swear it. It was real.
The passage ended at another door, also painted green.
I tried, once more, to persuade Steve to leave, but he just shook his head and opened the door: It led into a room like a kitchen, although there was something off about it that I couldn’t quite see. It was old-fashioned, yet also modern. Strange.
“Cake!” Steve headed for the table in the centre of the room and just shoved his hand straight in. “Mm, walnut, my favourite.”
Before I could say or do anything, another door into the kitchen opened and a person stepped into the room. It was a woman, tall and lithe, clad in an emerald-green dress that trailed on the floor, and with wide eyes of the same colour. Her pale face was almost beautiful, but not quite in proportion, and was framed by long, lustrous black hair.
Even frozen, caught in the act, I could see that Steve still managed to practically leer at her, taking in every curve.
She regarded us with cold eyes, her blood-red lips drawn tightly together in disapproval, and I trembled.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, at last.
Ignoring her, Steve asked, “What is this place?”
I suppose it was the pertinent question, but we really should’ve run.
She ignored him in turn, her eyes flickering down to take in the mauled remains of her cake.
“Thieves!” she cried and took a step towards us.
I took a step back as I tried to sputter an apology or excuse. Then, I began to back away towards the door.
With a gesture of her hand, she caused the door to slam shut behind me. Magic, I guess, but not quite, as I learned, the sort I thought.
There was nothing for me to do, but halt. I swore under my breath.
Steve made himself seem a little taller, injected a little swagger into his movements as he took a step towards her without a twitch to his face.
Her lip curled just a little; it might’ve been a smile.
Instead of further rebuke, she said, “Welcome. You must be hungry. Please, help yourselves.” She nodded at the cake Steve had started on, then added, to me, “There’s another one on the dresser for you.”
There was. Yet, I was certain, there hadn’t been one there when we entered the room.
It looked tasty, but there was absolutely no way I was going to eat it. I folded my arms and stared at Steve’s back as he demolished his cake and proceeded to dab up every lingering crumb.
“Look,” I said, “we have to go.”
I turned and stepped towards the door. But, before I could reach it, I felt my arms seized by what felt like tiny hands. I struggled, but couldn’t break free.
“This may help,” said the woman, spitting into her palm and, then, rubbing the spit into Steve’s eyes. He looked at me in shock as she proceeded to spit again and rub the froth into my open eyes.
I blinked, disgusted, but was unable to raise my arms to wipe it away.
Then, it was as if a mist had cleared from my eyes and I could see perfectly.
Without thinking, I glanced down at my arms and very nearly crapped myself at the sight of two tiny figures less than half my size, grasping my arms. Their skin was a sickly greyish colour and their facial features large and distorted, like bizarre caricatures.
“What the hell?”
“Just my little helpers,” she said.
“What is this place?” Steve demanded, again; this time, his voice was a little brittle.
Steve shook his head. “What the hell are those things?”
The woman laughed. “Just goblins. And, this? This is my domain, where I rule. You people think that, by levelling a mound or toppling a stone, you can make a place yours, build upon it, live upon it, but it isn’t so. We will always exist, no matter what claims you think you have or threats you use.”
“Fairies…” I think I mouthed the word. It was what she meant, I was certain; I recalled the stories my Grandmother told and knew it to be true. Somehow, rather than being crushed by uncaring progress, they had managed to entwine themselves with the fabric of the estate. I shivered at the thought. I still do. I never feel safe. “The Kind Ones.”
She gave a nod of acknowledgement. I thought there was something about her expression that said that epithet was not an accurate one.
“Now, you are mine. I have always liked human children.” It was the way she said it, something in her tone… she didn’t mean as company.
As I stared at her, she seemed less and less human, less real: For a moment, she appeared to break up into fragments, like the way a TV screen pixellates. Then, she was whole again, but still as alien.
“You belong to me, now. You,” she glanced at Steve, “come with me.” The goblins released him and he stumbled towards her. “And, you: eat that cake.”
The goblins dragged me over to the dresser, then released me. I picked the plate with cake on it up and slammed it down on one’s head. The other lunged at me, but I grabbed it by one bat-like ear and swung it up into a microwave and switched it on. It didn’t die, explode, whatever, but it did writhe and scream horribly.
Then, I ran.
The goblins that had been holding Steve were between me and the door we entered by and the woman was in front of another, but I noticed a third and ran through it. The passage behind it wasn’t pleasant like the one we’d entered by; it was like being inside a pipe. The curved walls were crusted with something like lime-scale and it stank of death. Stories of fairies and their ties to the dead slipped into my mind and I shivered.
“After him!” I heard the woman’s voice echo after me, seeming to snap at my heels as I ran. The sound of the goblins running also followed me. I sped wildly through a maze of tunnels, trying to lose them, but only after getting myself lost.
I stopped when it felt as if my side were about to rip apart. There was only silence and shadow and I had no idea how to get back to the kitchen. All I could do was lean with my hands on my knees and suck in painful breaths.
“You didn’t eat the cake.” The sudden voice made me jump. I grabbed my side and swore. It was a goblin. “I know,” it went on; “most of it’s on my head.”
I just stood still; I didn’t know what to do.
“I can show you the way out. You didn’t eat the cake, so you can leave.”
“I don’t understand.”
“It doesn’t matter. All that counts is that you can leave. I can show you.”
“Can you take me to Steve; uh, my friend?”
“You can’t help him.”
“I have to try.”
“You can’t help him: Once you eat fairy food, you cannot leave. A little, maybe, but he ate a whole cake.” It nudged me. “I can help you, but we have to hurry; if she finds you… oh, dear!”
It felt bizarre, like some weird nightmare, to be talking to it like that. Goblins shouldn’t be real. You shouldn’t be chatting to them in strange passages. But, I was. I did. It was real.
“Follow me. We need to do something about you being able to see me. We need a fairy salve. Bad things happen to people who can see us…”
“No. Take me back to the kitchen.”
“The kitchen.” I was still thinking of Steve, thinking that we could run down that green-carpeted passage together, get away.
“The kitchen – now!” I shouted and the goblin ducked its head and nodded.
I should’ve let it help me.
Following it, my return to the kitchen was shorter than my long run.
“We really need to do –”
“Where’s Steve?” I didn’t care about salves.
It didn’t answer, but cocked its head and said, “She’s coming! Oh, dear…”
Before I could reply, it was gone; I didn’t know where.
A door opened and the woman entered. There was no sign of Steve.
“You will not leave!” she screamed, advancing towards me. Behind her were goblins. Her face seemed to be coming apart, fragmenting, becoming less-and-less human.
I turned and ran, burst through the door that led out. There was no way I could save Steve without help. I just ran. I could sense her just behind me.
Then, I reached the green door and burst through it, back into our world. I kicked my foot at it, knocked it shut behind me. I heard it slam. Then, when I turned, there was no door, just the wall.
I think I wet myself.
They didn’t believe me. Zane denied the green door ever existed. It was only when Steve didn’t return in a week that his Mum or the police listened at all. But, there was no door, no clues. They assumed he ran away. The detectives quizzed me – I think they suspected I might’ve done something. But, it all came to nothing.
There were whispers, of course; a few people who said they’d seen a green door, tales of trick-or-treaters who’d disappeared, but nothing to help me; nothing to save Steve.
He’s still alive, you see. Somewhere, in there. In that other place. I can feel him, his suffering. He’s in pain and I don’t know how much longer he can last. She’s doing… something to him.
I wish there was something I could do to help him. But, it’s also happening to me, out here. I see things, shadowy figures, things that are neither animals nor people moving in the darkness. They follow me. Watch me. She still wants me.
And, I see her, too. Not just in my dreams, but in the TV. The image breaks up and the pixels become her face, screaming at me. My laptop. I had to throw that away. Mum won’t bin the TV. I stay in my room, now.
I just need someone to believe me, to help me.
I can hear her crooning to me from the living room and something is moving just outside in the hall. If she doesn’t come for me, take me back, something else will notice me. I don’t think there is any escape, not anywhere.
One day, I will see that green door again, go behind it, but I won’t save Steve.
Nobody can save him.
Can anyone save me?
DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines around the world, such as Winter's Grasp (Fantasia Divinity), Tales of the Black Arts (Hazardous Press), Pagan (Zimbell House), Misunderstood (Wolfsinger) and Sorcery & Sancity: A Homage to Arthur Machen (Hieroglyphics Press), and issues of Fantasia Divinity, Kzine, Broadswords and Blasters, and BFS Horizons, and in addition has a novella available in paperback and on the Kindle, The yellow House (Dunhams Manor) and a commic horror e-novelette, A Trip to the Middle of the World, available from Alban Lake through Infinite Realms Bookstore. DJ Tyrer's website The Atlantean Publishing website
Interview available on Nov 30, 2020