Click here to find other stories set in the WFGC Hotel.
Jake Potts stood in the lobby of the
hotel, blinking as his eyes adjusted to the light. In front of him, a massive, twisted oak tree
sprang from the lobby floor, reaching towards a domed ceiling decorated to look
like a sky split between night and day, with the a brilliant sun shining in a
cerulean sky on one side, a crescent moon and twinkling stars on the
other. Jake blinked again, looking
around the rest of the lobby, trying to take in the hotel’s staff dressed in
blue and gold livery, and the massive wooden desk waiting for people to
approach for check-in.
“Where am I?” Jake
asked. His voice sounded strange in his
ears, as if coming from a distance.
“Ah, Master Jacob.” The man
standing next to him spoke with a deep voice colored with a strong, upper-crust
British accent. Jake recognized the
voice, though he couldn’t put a name to it. “I did warn you to order your
“What?” Jake turned and
looked at the British man. He wore a
black suit with vest and pocket watch, and he had wings of white hair running
back behind his ears.
“It’s the first lesson,”
the British man said. “Order your thoughts. You cannot hope to master the arcane arts if
you cannot master your own mind.”
“What are you talking
“Oh dear, this is worse than I
thought.” The British man was not much taller than Jake. When he got down on one knee to talk to him,
Jake found himself looking down into the British man’s sharp blue eyes. “What
is the last thing you remember?”
Jake tried to think. The first memory that sprang to mind, still painful and fresh, was picking up the phone at home and hearing a crackling voice deliver news of the accident. Jake shook his head. No, that wasn’t the last thing he remembered. The call had been weeks ago. The memory just refused to fade like the rest.
“The foster home.” Jake
frowned and looked around. “Wait.
Where is Michael and Clementine?”
“Master Jacob.” The British
man’s voice became stern. “Focus! I
need you to remember.”
Jake locked gazes with the British
man for a moment. Then, like morning fog
giving way to sunlight, details in his memory became clear. He remembered packing his bag and leaving the
foster home. He packed everything because
he knew he would not be returning. And
he remembered this stranger’s name.
“Miles Baker,” Jake said.
“Yes, that’s right. What else do you remember?”
“You told me… you told me we
were going somewhere.”
“For what purpose, Master
Jake took a deep breath. He remembered something, but he didn’t
believe it. He looked back into Miles’
“Yes, that’s right.” Miles
stood back up, placed his hands on his hips, and stretched. “You have the
gift and the potential to join the ranks of the Arcane Guardians. Or, to put it in terms you may be more
familiar with, you are a wizard, Master Jacob.”
Jake opened his mouth to deliver a
stronger swear word, and stopped. A
bitter taste coated his tongue, running down his throat and making him
gag. He clapped a hand over his mouth
and stared as Miles’ lips twisted into an impish grin.
“Now,” Miles said,
“why don’t you wait here while I finish securing our rooms. And please do not wander off or touch
anything. This place is not what it
As soon as Miles took a step towards
the front desk, the awful taste of soap in Jake’s mouth disappeared. He licked his lips, wondering if he’d
imagined it. Had Miles done something to
him? No. Impossible. Magic wasn’t real. Could Miles have hypnotized him?
Jake turned to watch Miles at the
front desk. The dapper British gentleman
smiled and spoke with animated hands to the person behind the counter. Jake tried to look at the night clerk and
found himself staring at the white marble flooring that surrounded the massive
tree. The huge oak came right out of the
floor with no visible gaps to expose the soil beneath.
Frowning, Jake tried again to look at
the night clerk. He blinked, and then
stared at an ornate painting on the wall depicting a knight in silvery armor
astride a massive black horse. The
knight held a gleaming sword in one hand as his other hovered near the edge of
“What the hell?” Jake
said. He remembered what Miles had said
before and tried to focus his thoughts.
Gritting his teeth, keeping his intention clear in his mind, Jake slowly
turned to look back at the night clerk.
A muscle spasmed in his neck and he ignored it. A figure stood on the other side of the
massive desk, but Jake’s eyes refused to focus.
His vision blurred, and he felt a tear run down his cheek. When his head began to ache, he let his
vision turn away. The tree stood before
him, tiny decorative houses lining its massive, twisted branches.
“Master Jacob,” Miles said.
“Are you quite alright?”
“What’s happening?” Jake’s
head throbbed, though the pain began to subside.
Before Jake could pull away, Miles
reached forward and wiped the tear from his cheek. When Miles didn’t withdraw his hand, Jake
looked down at it. Blood covered the tip
of Miles’ finger.
“One cannot look upon The Night Manager without their express permission,” Miles said. “But don’t worry. I’m sure you will become acquainted soon enough. And see here! It takes a strong will and a focused mind to look for as long as you managed. You certainly must have what it takes to be a Guardian. Mark my words.”
Jake reached up and wiped his eyes
and his cheek. He felt the tacky warm
blood on his fingers before he looked down to confirm. Miles hadn’t tricked him, and he hadn’t hypnotized
“Let’s climb up to our rooms so
you can wash up. You’re going to want to
get a good night’s rest so you’ll be ready for tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow, Master Jacob, you are
going to cast your first spell.”
Jake sat in a creaky wooden desk
chair in Miles’ room. They shared
adjoining suites, and Jake could see his unmade bed through the open door
between their rooms. Hunger twisted
Jake’s stomach into knots, and he hoped that the joke or farce would be over quickly.
“Now,” Miles said. He bent over one of his black-scaled bags and
rummaged through the contents. “Let’s see… ah! Here it is.”
“Can’t we go down to breakfast
“Oh no, my boy. One’s first brush with the arcane can lead to
“I’m not your boy.”
“I’m not your boy, Mr.
Baker. Don’t call me that.”
“Ah. My apologies, Master Jacob. Now as I was saying–“
“Can’t you just call me
“Of course, Master Jacob. Of course.
Now where were we…”
Jake heaved a sigh and looked towards
the door. He wondered what his British
host would do if he just got up and left.
“Take this.” Miles offered
what looked like a brass thimble and an eye dropper.
“What is this?”
“In the cup? Tap water, though we’ll fix that up soon enough.”
Jake found himself holding the thimble in one hand and the dropper in the other. “What am I supposed to do with this?”
“Just hold it for now, and clear
your mind. Once I’ve explained what it
is we’re doing, I’ll–“
“No. Stop.” Jake set the thimble down on the
desk behind him. “I don’t want to do this.
I don’t believe in magic.”
“I know, Master Jacob. I know.
And I understand. That’s why this
first spell we’ll be casting is to clear your vision and open your eyes.”
Jake opened his mouth to argue, then
stopped. He raised a hand and touched
the corner of his eye. He had seen
things already that he couldn’t explain.
What would be the harm in going along with Miles? If it got them down to breakfast that much
sooner, it would be worth it.
Miles gestured towards the dropper
still in Jake’s hand. “That is called a Dropper of Clarity. It’s a tool the Guardians devised some time
ago, easily made and easy to use. What goes
in the dropper does not matter, but what comes out will wash away the sticky film
of the mundane that covers most people’s eyes.”
Jake blinked a few times.
“It’s a magic item that helps
you see magic.”
“Why didn’t you just say that in
the first place?”
“Because the details are important.” Miles gestured towards the thimble on the desk. “Please pick that up, and follow my instructions.”
Jake did as he was asked and sat up
straighter in his chair, mirroring Miles’ posture.
“Some magical artifacts are more
difficult to use than others,” Miles said. “Some require a specific
location to work, or the utterance of triggering words. Droppers of Clarity, on the other hand, only
require a small effort of will.”
“Right. How do I do that?”
“Clear your mind. Empty it of everything.”
Jake shook his head. “I can’t do
that. No one can do that.”
“I know it can be difficult at
“It’s like telling someone not
to think of a kitten. Just saying it out
loud makes people think of it.”
“Master Jacob,” Miles’
voice became suddenly stern. “I would appreciate it very much if you would
not interrupt me when I am instructing you.
Furthermore, until you have learned more in the ways of the arcane arts,
it would reflect well on you not to proclaim what is and is not possible.”
Jake sat back in his seat. He felt his cheeks warm, and he wanted to be anywhere out of Miles’ presence. Jake knew that he’d been rude to the British gentleman, and getting called out on it made him feel small and ashamed. He wanted desperately to see his parents. Of course, his father wouldn’t have put up with Jake’s tone or behavior. Jake’s shoulders slumped and he wished he could crawl into the thimble and hide under the tiny pool of water.
“You have already demonstrated
that you can do this,” Miles said. “You tried to look upon The Night
Manager, and as far as I can tell, nearly succeeded. Compared to that, activating the dropper
should be simple.”
Jake smiled. “So, you’re saying
this isn’t going to make my eyes bleed?”
Miles did not smile. “Most
likely not. We’ll have a clean washcloth
handy, just in case.”
Jake swallowed and reached to touch
the corner of his eye again.
“If, as you say, you cannot
completely clear your mind, then I’d like you to visualize something
appropriate. Imagine a door opening, or
a dense fog lifting. Anything that gives
you a sense of revelation.”
Jake closed his eyes and tried to go
with it. He tried to imagine the things
Miles had described, but neither doors nor fog gave him a sense of
clarity. He kept seeing the door close,
and the fog return, and it all reminded him of a life he’d never have again.
A sharp comment formed on Jake’s tongue but he bit it back. He was concentrating. What did Miles think he was doing? He imagined wiping a hand across a foggy mirror and seeing his own, red-rimmed eyes looking back. He visualized ripping wrapping paper off a package. The last Christmas with his parents, his mother had given him a leather jacket.
“You had something for a moment
there. Keep trying!”
Jake pushed away the thoughts of his mother and his jacket and reached for a memory that wasn’t so close to recent events. He thought back to a science class. The teacher had smudged something oily on a plate of glass, and all of the kids took turns looking through the microscope. Jake remembered twisting a dial, raising and lowering the glass until the circle of empty white light solidified into an image of tiny, translucent cells, swimming in pale liquid.
“That’s it! Very good, Master Jacob!”
Jake opened his eyes and looked at
the objects in his hands. Neither the
thimble nor the dropper looked any different. “Okay, what now?”
“Draw some of the water into the
dropper and release a single drop into one of your eyes. Do it quickly, though, before the device goes
back to sleep.”
“Which eye? Why not both?”
“You certainly may choose both
eyes, if you wish, but I do not recommend it.
You will soon be able to see things you never would have imagined. If it becomes overwhelming, you may want to
be able to close one eye and still see the mundane world, as you’ve seen it
your entire life.”
“Did you put something in the
water while I had my eyes closed?”
“I think you already know that I
did not. Hurry, please. The dropper will only remain active for a few
Jake shook his head as put the glass
into the thimble. The tiny dropper drank
the water and glimmered in the hotel light.
He tipped his head back and held the dropper over his left eye. He squeezed, the drop formed and fell, and a
split second before the liquid touched his naked eye, he thought he saw a
golden light. Then the cool moisture was
there. He blinked and raised a hand to
wipe the water away.
“A moment!” Miles said,
taking hold of Jake’s arm. A few seconds
later, Miles let him go. “That should do it.”
Jake wiped his face. It felt like wiping tears, something he’d done far too often over the last few weeks. He looked at Miles and shook his head again. “Nothing happened.”
“Are you so sure?” Miles
pointed towards one wall of the room. “Look there. Close your right eye, if you must.”
Jake set the thimble and stopper down
and turned towards the indicated wall. A
framed painting of a farmhouse interrupted a cream-white surface. Faint shadows drew darkened lines diagonally
from carpet to ceiling. It looked like
an ordinary hotel wall.
“I told you, it didn’t–”
The wall rippled. Something long and sinuous slithered just
beneath the paint. The creature
stretched along a narrow passage Jake hadn’t seen before. Jake thought at first it was a snake, but its
thick body didn’t seem to end.
“A tentacle,” Miles said,
sounding pleased. “Some sort of giant squid, I believe.”
Jake’s chair fell over as he tried to
get away. He propped himself on his
hands and crab-walked backwards, away from the wall. Miles put a hand on his shoulder and stopped
“She will not harm you. For the most part, she isn’t even really
here. Or more precisely, we are not
“What’s that supposed to
mean?” Jake realized he’d shrieked his question. His breathing came in short gulps. He wanted to look away but he couldn’t turn
his head. Miles’ firm hand kept him in
place on the floor.
“If you hadn’t guessed yet, this
hotel is an unusual place. In our world,
it sits directly over the conjunction of two powerful lay lines. Because of this, it–“
“Let me go!”
“Of course, Master Jacob. Why don’t you close your left eye for a
moment and catch your breath.”
Jake blinked several times before
reaching up with one hand and covering his left eye. The undulating image and the corridor within
the wall disappeared. Through his right
eye, he saw the painting and the plain off-white wall he’d seen before. He quit trying to scramble away from it.
“What did you do to me?”
“Nothing! I simply helped you cast a spell which allows you to see beneath the surface of the mundane world. I assure you, Master Jacob, this effect is quite temporary. In an hour or two, the fog of creation will fill your eyes again. But with practice, you can open your eyes to magic at will and see what lies beneath whenever you like.”
“Why would I want to do
that? What did you put in the
water? Did you drug me?”
Miles reached past Jake and picked up
the thimble. He raised it in a brief
toast, then tossed back the contents as if it were a shot of liquor. “It’s
just water. No drugs. Nothing extra except for whatever it might
have collected from this hotel’s old, brass pipes. Consider, Master Jacob. If you’d been drugged, why would the unseen
world disappear when you covered your left eye?”
“It could still be–“
“No,” Miles said in a sharp
tone. He took a deep breath and forced a
smile before continuing. “We don’t have much time here, and I don’t want
to spend what we have trying to explain to you what most of the world would
find unexplainable. For your sake and
mine, I need you to start trusting in what I have to teach you. As for your other question, why someone would
open their eyes to the supernatural, there are many reasons. Open your left eye and look at the
Jake lowered his hand and looked. The stopper appeared as it had before with its smoky glass and its bright red rubber stopper. Closing his right eye, Jake saw something else. The stopper glowed with a soft golden light.
“I see it.” Jake turned and looked back at Miles. A small, round object rested above Miles’ heart, glowing from beneath Miles’ shirt more brightly than the dropper. Jake pointed towards it. “I see something there, too.”
Miles’s eyes went wide and he clutched
at the object at his chest. “Ah, yes.
This. You don’t have to worry
about this. Not yet, anyway.”
“What is it?”
“Not something you’re ready
“But what is it?”
With a sigh, Miles loosened his tie
and unbuttoned the top two buttons of his shirt. He tucked a finger beneath his collar and
fished out a silver chain. The chain
itself didn’t glow, but the golden medallion that emerged shone like a torch.
“This is a Master Key.”
“What does it open?”
Jake crossed his arms in front of him. “You just said I need to start trusting you. It goes both ways. How am I supposed trust you if you don’t trust me enough to answer my questions?”
“Oh, very well.” Miles
removed the medallion from his neck and held it out in front of him. “Most
people live their lives believing that the only world that exists is the one
they were born into. But there are many
worlds. More than you can imagine. Master Keys like this one open and close the
doors between the many worlds.”
Jake stared at the gold disk in Miles’
hands. In spite of the otherworldly
light that surrounded it, in spite of his heart still beating fast from seeing
a monster slithering through the walls, Jake clung to his doubts.
“Why don’t we have a little
stroll around the hotel?” Miles asked, closing his hands around the Master
Before Jake could form words to
protest, he found himself walking down the hallway next to Miles. Wood-paneled walls stretched out in front of
him, occasionally interrupted by immaculate white doors with ornate brass
handles. More paintings of countrysides
and farmhouses dotted the walls, each composed with exquisite detail, none
memorable enough to capture Jake’s attention as he walked past them.
“Where are we going?” Jake
“Just around the hotel. Not too far, I’m sure.”
Jake started to ask another question,
then stopped mid-step. He turned to his
left and stared at the wall. He covered
each of his eyes in turn. Through his
left, he saw a closed door like the rest in the hallway. With his right eye, the wall continued
“Is this one of those doors you
mentioned before? Into another
“There is a door there, and it
is in another world. It’s just not
connected to our world.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Try to open it.”
Jake reached for the handle. His hand passed through empty air.
“This hotel is a special
place,” Miles said. “Built on a conjunction of many lay lines, the
boundary between worlds here is quite thin.
Thin enough that we can sometimes stop and look across the gap and
glimpse the places beyond. That’s why I
brought us here, Master Jacob.
Sometimes, seeing is believing, and I need you to believe.”
Jake lay on his bed above the covers, his fingers knitted behind his head, his eyes fixed and unfocused on the ceiling. Jake and Miles had walked for almost two hours before the effects of the eye dropper wore off. During that time, he’d seen things he couldn’t believe. One of the phantom doors had opened to reveal a long-haired goat chewing a cigar with an intelligent gleam in its bar-shaped eyes. Only it hadn’t been chewing. It had been smoking. Through a window, Jake had seen what looked like a modern bathroom dominated by a velociraptor, snarling and slashing the linoleum, like something out of a Stephen Spielberg movie. They passed an elderly woman in a wheelchair that looked normal enough, except for the silenced pistol tucked into her knitting bag. Jake saw dozens of things he had no explanation for, any one of which would have been enough to keep him awake at night. Then there had been the explanations. All day, Miles went on and on about lay lines, incantations, the history of magic… it had all been overwhelming.
The sun had set long ago and the
clock had made the transition from large numbers to small. Laying on his bed with his mind swimming
through memories he couldn’t catalog, sleep eluded him.
With only one lamp lit, long shadows
reached dark fingers across the walls.
Jake stared at them, closing one eye.
After everything he’d seen, he half-expected to see something looking
back at him through the darkness. He
focused. For just a moment, he could
almost see the outline of a tentacle, long and sinuous. Or was his imagination getting the best of
An unrelenting silence pressed down on
Jake. It had never been so quiet in his
home. His mother always had something
going on the television. Half the time,
she couldn’t tell you what was playing.
She just wanted the noise, she’d say.
Even after the accident, after Jake had gone to the foster home, there
had never been true silence. The foster
home had creaked and hummed around him like a living thing.
However else Miles had disrupted
Jake’s life, one constant remained: Jake’s mind found its way back to his
parents and the accident. He didn’t like
to think of it, but he couldn’t avoid it.
How can a person make themselves not think of something?
If Jake’s dad was there, he might
have had an answer. His dad was so
smart. He’d work on crosswords with a
pen. If Miles had been pulling some sort
of trick on Jake, Jake’s dad would have seen through it. Jake wished his father was there right now,
if only to help Jake process the impossible things he’d seen that day.
A sound like fabric tearing broke the
silence. Jake flinched from the noise. It came again, sounding through the door that
separated the two rooms. Snoring. Miles had a snore like a sputtering lawn
mower. Did the British man have sleep
apnea or something? Jake added another
tally to the mental checklist of things keeping him from sleeping.
Jake’s memories tumbled back to
another time when snoring had kept him awake.
He and his parents had gone camping and they’d had to share a tent. Jake had ducked down into his sleeping bag
with a flashlight to read while his parents fell asleep a couple of feet
away. When the batteries ran out and his
eyes got heavy, he could hear the sleep noises coming from his parents. Eventually, insect chirping and an occasional
breeze through dry leaves lulled Jake off to dreamland.
Sleep wouldn’t be so easy this
night. He’d seen things in the hotel
that wouldn’t let his brain rest, like the tiny people that lived in the tree
in the lobby. As Jake had watched, one
of the little elves raised a hand and waved at Jake. They could see him, just as Jake could see
them. Miles insisted that they were in a
different world, but they acknowledged Jake’s presence. That made them real.
As another one of Miles’ resonant
snores penetrated the walls into Jake’s room, Jake sat up. A new thought filled his mind. A possibility. Something he never would have considered
before that day. He rose from his bed
and crept towards the door into Miles’ room.
Jake gave the doorknob a slow
turn. It clicked open, and the hinges
snitched on him with a creak that sounded like a scream. Jake waited in the open door. Miles’ thunderous sleep noise encouraged him
The British man lay unconscious above
the covers, an open book spread on his chest.
Miles’ head rested on the pillow facing Jake, his mouth open and a thin
line of drool running in a line to the fabric.
Jake froze part way into Miles’ room, only moving whenever the sleeping
man emitted another resonant blast.
Miles kept his room neat and
organized, with his clothes hung up in the closet and his sundry other
possessions tucked into his crocodile skin bags, which he left open on the
dresser. Jake tip-toed to the bags and
peaked inside. He found the box with the
dropper, pulled it out, and moved on to the bathroom.
Jake drew water from the tap and tried to activate the dropper. It took him several tries. Jake’s eyes stung and his cheeks felt wet as though he’d been crying. Eventually, the dropper glowed in his hand. This time, he’d dosed both eyes.
As he made his way back towards his
room, his footsteps slowed. Other items
in Miles’ room wore similar auras to the dropper. Items beamed from Mile’s bag on the dresser. The book resting on the British man’s chest
bore a rose-colored light. None of the
other magical items in Miles’ room lit up like the Master Key, though, which
Jake could see radiating from the bedside table drawer.
Jake’s plan had been to look for a
window that showed him his parents. With
so many possible worlds, there had to be one where the accident had never taken
place. Jake thought that if he looked
hard enough in the hotel, maybe he could find that world. Maybe he’d be able to see them. Maybe they’d be able to see him, too. But why look for a window when you might be
able open a door? Jake crept towards the
table with the glowing golden amulet.
The drawer slid open with a soft
sigh. Jake reached for the chain. Miles stopped mid-snore. Jake looked towards the British man, caught in
the act, his heart pounding in his ears.
Miles snorted, closed his lips, and
turned his head. The snoring resumed, a
bit quieter than before.
Jake withdrew the Master Key and
slunk back to his room. He closed the
door behind him and released the breath he’d been holding. He had the key. All he had to do next was figure out how to
With both eyes opened to the magical
world, Jake had a hard time navigating the hotel. He kept trying to follow hallways that didn’t
exist. When he found the stairs, he
nearly tripped and fell. Whatever world
he was looking into had seven steps down before the turn, while the real world
had eight. He managed to catch himself
on the rail.
On the bottom floor, he started
towards the lobby, then stopped. If the
Night Manager were on shift, what would happen?
Would Jake’s eyes start to bleed again?
With the effects of the dropper running, would his head simply
explode? Jake turned around. Best not to risk it.
In front of him, the world flickered and moved. Hallways winked into existence, slanted off into different directions, then disappeared. A casino appeared in front of Jake for a moment, its occupants wreathed in smoke as they pulled one-armed bandits. The slot machines disappeared, replaced with poker tables. A restaurant took the place of the casino, with waitresses wearing blue dresses appropriate for a sock hop. The restaurant morphed into a diner. Jake locked eyes momentarily with a short-order cook that had a scar twisting his mouth and cheek into a wicked sneer. The diner disappeared but the grim-faced cook remained, only he was a bouncer standing in front of a dance hall. A line of waiting guests stood in front of him next to a velvet roped queue.
“Can I help you, sir?” a
man whispered in Jake’s ear.
Jake turned to see an older man in a
bright red bell-hop’s uniform. A name
tag read “Sammy” in black letters on a gold background.
“I think I need a quiet place to
“Have you been to the
lounge? The bar is closed this time of
night, but the seats are comfy and it should be very quiet.”
“Can you take me there?”
Sammy smiled, his blue eyes
twinkling. “Of course! Right this
The old bellhop walked forward into
the heart of the chaos. Jake kept his
eyes focused on Sammy while the geography of the hotel shifted around them. A few moments later, Sammy stopped and
gestured towards a beige sofa.
Whatever room Sammy had brought them
to, it continued to warp through different realities. Jake reached his hands forward and placed
them on the back of the couch. He felt
the soft material and sighed in relief.
It was real.
Jake turned to thank the
bellhop. Sammy was gone.
“Right. I think I’m just gonna sit and wait this
Jake lowered himself onto the sofa as
the hotel continued its dizzying dance.
For as long as Jake had walked with Miles earlier that day, Jake hadn’t
seen anything like this. Had they just
not come to this part of the hotel? Was
it not so dramatic before because Jake had only dosed one eye? Perhaps Miles had done something to keep the
realities straight. Jake could only
guess. With a heavy sigh, he sat back
and resigned himself to watching different realms of possibility twist all
As the immediate surroundings changed
from a bar to a pool to a well equipped gymnasium, Jake noticed one detail
remain fixed in place. However else the
rooms changed, he could see a stationary door leading out of the hotel. It changed colors and shapes but it did not
move relative to Jake.
After a few minutes, Jake reached
down and pulled up the Master Key. In his
hands, it glowed with hope and possibility.
He looked from the Master Key to the door. He’d come this far. Why stop now?
Keeping his eyes on the door, Jake
stood up and walked across the chaos of the hotel. Phantoms of people and furniture appeared in
front of him. Jake gritted his teeth and
walked through them. He reached a hand
up and touched the door knob. A static
shock stung him as he wrapped his fingers around the cold metal.
Jake pulled out the Master Key and
held it against the door and thought of Miles’ instructions on using the
dropper. He had to focus and
visualize. Visualize what? Probably something to do with opening. Jake’s mind conjured a memory of his old
home, before the accident. He visualized
the heavy front door which his mother decorated with a wreath every holiday
season. He saw the door opening in his
mind, with his parents waiting for him on the other side.
He opened the door.
Plates crashed. A man shouted. Jake turned and saw a waiter surrounded by
shards of porcelain, his cart overturned next to a set of dumbbells. A woman with long brown hair, platform shoes,
bell bottoms, and a tie-die shirt stood a short distance off, staring at
another woman wearing a big-shouldered, tan business suit. Except for their clothing, they could have
been twins. Another waiter in a
completely different uniform from the first pushed a mop bucket towards the
spilled plates, stepping over gymnasium equipment before sliding around the
“What’s happening?” asked a
man in a blue blazer.
“Where am I?” asked another
man in a space suit, his helmet tucked under one arm.
More people appeared, each adding
their voices to the chorus of questions and exclamations. Jake heard more sounds of dishes breaking,
followed by a gunshot. Then screaming.
“Oh no,” Jake said. The door was gone. Where it should have been, a ragged hole in
reality yawned, the edges frayed and moving.
Beyond the opening, Jake saw another hotel. As he watched, the hole widened by several
inches on each side.
“This can’t be happening.”
Jake squeezed his eyes shut, hoping to break the spell. After a moment, he heard a familiar voice
“There, there. Be a good chap and help this woman up, would
you? That’s it. Everything will be all right. No need to worry. Ah!
Master Jacob, there you are.”
A hand gripped Jake’s shoulder and he
opened his eyes. In front of him, the
tear in reality continued to eat away at the wall.
“Miles, I don’t know what to
do.” Jake turned to the British man and pressed the Master Key into his
The British man looked at the amulet.
“Impressive. It usually takes
months of practice to get an artifact like this to respond at all.”
“You’re… saying I did a good
“Oh, heaven’s no. An unstable rift at a nexus of power like
this can tear the fabric of our reality to ribbons. This was quite irresponsible on your part,
“How do we fix it?”
Wood splintered and glass shattered
somewhere behind Miles. The British man
rubbed his chin as he examined the rift.
After a moment, he took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. He handed the amulet back to Jake.
“We’ll do this together. The Master Key will only work from this side,
so you hold on to it.”
Before Jake could protest, Miles stepped around him and through the portal. As Jake watched, duplicates of Miles stepped off to the right and left. More copies of Miles appeared behind Jake wearing different outfits.
“Now,” Miles said from the
other side of the rift. “Hold up the key where the door should be.”
Jake lifted the amulet. It felt heavier than before. “Miles,
wait. What are you doing?”
“It’s very important you try and
focus, Master Jacob. We don’t have much
“Focus on what? If this closes and you’re on the other
“This will take both of us, one
on each side. Visualize a boulder or a
“Not a door?”
“Doors are meant to be
opened. This is a break, and what we
need is something solid and whole.”
The memory of a lake with a rocky beach sprung immediately to Jake’s mind. He remembered climbing the huge boulders next to the cold, blue water. He tried to put the image out of his mind, but how do you delete a thought once it’s in your mind? The amulet touched something solid.
“No! Don’t leave me like this!”
“I’m sorry, Master Jacob, but
this is the only way. We only have a few
moments, now. There’s a book in my
room. I want you to–“
Jake didn’t want to hear it. He tried to pull the Master Key away, but it
refused to budge. Jake brought a foot
up, braced himself, and pulled harder.
Something gave and he fell, landing hard on his back. The door that had not been there slammed
shut. The click of the lock echoed into
the sudden silence.
Groaning, Jake sat up and looked
around. The strange warping of reality
had ceased, and he found himself on the floor of a sparse lounge. Alone.
Jake scrambled to his feet and opened
the door. Cold night air rushed in,
prickling his skin to goose flesh. He
stepped outside and looked around. Miles
was nowhere to be found. A crescent moon
partially obscured by clouds beamed down at him.
“Miles, I’m so sorry.”
The empty night offered no response.
Jake found Miles’ book on the bedside table beneath an ornately carved wooden pen. Jake picked up the writing instrument and examined it. On the top where a clicker would be, Jake found a dime-sized ruby set into the dark wood.
Setting the pen aside, Jake opened
the book and thumbed through it. Half
the pages were blank while the other held words and pictures drawn in black
ink. Jake turned to the last page and
found a message addressed to him.
Dear Master Jacob,
You have already experienced more grief than any young man your age should have to bear, and I hope that my departure does not add to your burden.
Though I have only known you for a short time, I am certain that you will make an excellent Guardian. You are inquisitive, strong-willed, and pure in your intentions. Do not let the experience with the rift dissuade you. I believe in you.
As you may have already guessed, this book is special. In addition to containing my notes and instructions on the mystic arts, it is also a way for us to communicate. I have a copy, and whatever is written in one appears in the other. But please have a care as there are only so many pages.
You will find the resources you need within my bags, and the hotel staff has been instructed to attend to you for as long as you’d like. Study my notes, and for the sake of our reality, do not try and open a portal to reach me. Trust me when I tell you that you are not ready for that.
But someday, you will be.
Jake traced the last few words with a
finger. He picked up the pen, set it to
the page, then stopped. What was he
going to say? Was he going to thank his
brief mentor, or apologize? He riffled
through the empty pages with his thumb.
Miles was right. There weren’t
enough pages to waste.
Turning off the light, Jake returned to his room and closed the door behind him. As he saw it, there really was only one thing left for him to do. He turned on the bedside lamp, sat on his bed, and opened the book to the beginning.
He began to read.