Without further ado... The Door to Justice!
Jack!” Winifred’s calls echoed back to her through the woods. “Where are you two?” She listened for a reply, and when none came, she started walking again. “This isn’t like Jack at all,” she said to Ryan.
“I’m sure they’re fine, Fred” said Ryan, not sounding sure at all. He had also expected the boys back some time ago. The last time Wes was out in these woods late… He shook his head at the thought. Well, it wasn’t a simple case of losing track of time. “It’s the last day of school,” he said, trying to sound certain. “They were probably just out here screwing around and lost track of time.” He grimaced, his words a contradicting echo to his thoughts. Somehow he knew it was more than that. He could feel a pull, somewhere in the back of his mind, and was almost certain he knew where to find the boys.
“If they’re fine, why aren’t they answering?”
“Fred, listen to yourself!” Ryan couldn’t help but snicker, despite his own misgivings. “Jack’s going to be eighteen in a month, and Wes is going to be sixteen this fall! It’s not like they’re little kids!”
Fred looked slightly abashed, but still worried. “Listen, I know you and Wes have your own way of looking at the world, but Jack’s a little more responsible than that,” she said, although her tone wasn’t harsh. Ryan frowned, and opened his mouth to speak, but Fred saw his expression and went on. “Not that I’m saying Wes isn’t responsible,” she began, and then trailed off with a grimace. “Okay, open mouth, insert foot. You know what I mean, though. I know you and Wes have worked out your issues lately, but he still pretty much comes and goes on his own. When Jack says he’s going to be somewhere, he’s there.”
“He just finished his senior year of high school. Give him a chance to goof off!”
For a moment, Fred seemed to consider Ryan’s suggestion, but then she started off through the woods again, calling for the boys.
Ryan debated telling Fred the whole story right then, but decided against it. Fred might be his big sister, but there was no way she’d believe him. She’d been protective of Ryan when they were growing up, being the closest in age of his three siblings, and Ryan knew that she still thought of him as her baby brother. Of everyone in their tight-knit family, Fred would be the least likely to believe his story. There was no way he could make her understand.
“Listen,” Ryan replied, “why don’t you go on back up to the house? I’ll go find them. I think I know where they might be.”
“Then I’ll come with you,” she said in a determined voice. “They were supposed to be back for dinner over an hour ago. I don’t know about Wes lately, but you know Jack’s not the type to do something like this.”
Fred, listen, it’s no big deal,” said Ryan. “They’re just out here blowing off some steam.” He hoped that was what they were doing. The alternative was unthinkable. If Wes had gotten Jack mixed up in anything, how was Ryan ever going to explain it to Fred?
“Oh, come on,” said
Fred, exasperated. “I know they’re just out here blowing off steam. I’m not going to chew Jack out on the last day of school, not on his big day! I’m just worried because Jack’s not usually careless about the time.”
Ryan sighed. “Okay,” he said. “Come on, then. I think I know where they might be.” He led the way through the woods, up and down the slopes, hoping that they’d find
Jack and Wes somewhere along the way rather than where he expected them to be. It had been weeks since their encounter with the crazy little house that shouldn’t be there. But he couldn’t dismiss the strange feeling that they were about to encounter it again.
They crested a familiar rise, and he groaned inwardly when he looked out over the shady hollow below.
Fred climbed up behind him and gasped.
“Okay,” she said quietly, staring at the run-down shack in the center of the hollow. “Where did that come from?”
“Long story,” said Ryan. He thought for a moment about lying to his sister. But as a father, he knew that wouldn’t be fair. It was starting to look like a strong possibility that Jack was involved in this now. Damn Pomander! “To make it short, no, it wasn’t there when we were growing up, yes, it’s weird, and yes, I was afraid we’d find the boys here.”
“But… that house looks like it’s been there for…”
“I know,” interrupted Ryan. “Are you sure you don’t want to go back home and let me go get the kids?”
“Nothing! I…” Ryan stopped, and then sighed heavily. “A lot, actually,” he said finally. “Come on, it’s a long story. I’m pretty sure the boys are in there, and it’ll be easier to explain once we go in and get them.” He cleared his throat. “But you won’t believe it.”
He started down the slope into the hollow and marched toward the house,
Fred trailing behind him spouting questions. Ryan didn’t pause at the rickety stairs, just marched up to the porch. As he reached the top, the door opened by itself, and Fred froze.
“Ryan, what’s going on?” she said, her voice strained. “You’re scaring me.”
“There’s nothing to be scared of,” he said. I hope, he thought to himself. He walked through the doorway, Fred slowly following.
Jack! Are you in here?” Ryan called.
“Ryan! You've arrived!” came a voice from the sitting room beyond, and
Fred jumped. Ryan walked into the sitting room to see Pomander rushing about, tossing things into a small suitcase. Ryan was surprised at the little man’s appearance. He wore blue jeans and a dark t-shirt. His long hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and his normally straggly beard was neatly brushed. His appearance was completely at odds with all that Ryan knew about the little man.
“What’s going on?” asked Ryan, alarmed at the wizard’s behavior. “Are Wes and
Jack here?” After a moment, he added, “And why are you dressed like that?”
“Yes,” replied the little man quickly. “That is, no. They were here, but they’re not now. And I’m dressed like this to blend in.” He looked his clothing with distaste. “Were I certain what we would find, I would not be so concerned with appearances. But I fear at this point, a bit of subterfuge is in order.”
Ryan shook his head, failing to make sense of Pomander’s words. “Where did they go?” Ryan asked, seizing on what was important and afraid he knew the answer already.
“They went through a doorway,” replied Pomander, and he noticed
Fred for the first time. “Who is this?” he asked, halting his rapid packing.
“This is my sister,
Fred,” said Ryan. “ Jack’s mother. Now what’s going on?”
Pomander took a deep breath. “It was supposed to be a safe, quiet trip,” he said miserably. “I was going to show Wes that not every world is like Canellin, that some of them could be very enjoyable.”
“What are you talking about?” said
Fred, her confusion and impatience clear. “Ryan, what’s going on? Who is he? Where’s Jack?” She looked around wonderingly. “This house is… I mean, why is… it’s bigger in here than I thought it would be.”
Fred,” said Ryan soothingly. “It is okay, right?” he said, addressing Pomander.
Pomander turned to Fred. “Madam, I’m certain everything will be fine. Your son… Jack, is it? I wasn’t formally introduced.” He took Fred’s hand and looked at her earnestly. “Madam, your son is not here. However, if you will allow us, your brother and I wil go and retrieve both the boys. Please, excuse us.” He bowed slightly and gestured toward the door.
“There’s little time to explain now,” he said. “Ryan and I must go. Please, return to your home, and do not concern yourself.”
“I’m not leaving here without Jack,” said
“Madam, I must insist…”
“Enough,” Ryan said gruffly. “She’s
Jack’s mother, and she deserves to know what’s going on. Why did Jack go with Wes? And why did Wes go at all? Hasn’t he done enough?”
“I will explain when we arrive,” the little man replied curtly, picking up his suitcase. “Now come along, you and I must be going.” He bowed again to
Fred and took Ryan by the arm, leading him toward the staircase.
“Wait just a minute!” said
Fred. “You haven’t told me what’s going on here! You’re not going anywhere without me!”
Pomander stopped and took a deep breath. “You do not understand what you’re asking, madam,” he said. “I’m not certain of what went wrong, and I have no wish to put you in danger.”
“Danger? But it’s all right for my son to be in danger?” Fred put her hands on her hips, glaring at the little man. “No way. I already told you, I’m not leaving here without my son.”
Pomander sighed and rubbed his eyes with one hand. “As you wish, madam,” he replied. “I will explain everything when we arrive. Come along.” He turned and mounted the staircase. Ryan looked helplessly at
Fred, and then turned to go after the little man. Fred had no option but to follow.
They entered the long hallway and walked a short way down its length before Pomander stopped. He reached out and opened the door, and
Fred gasped as it swung outward.
“What… what is that?” she asked, pointing at the swirling mass of nothingness beyond the threshold.
“It is a gateway to another world,” said Pomander. “Your son and Wes passed through it. Unfortunately, it was blocked to me specifically. I’ve delved the spell that was used, and I cannot counter it from this side.” He placed his hands on the frame of the door. The doorway seemed to twist in on itself, and then returned to its original appearance. Pomander opened his eyes and nodded in satisfaction. “However, I have certain advantages. I have tuned myself to the vibrational and magical resonance frequency of the doorway. I can transport us without need of a doorway.” He turned and motioned for
Fred and Ryan to take his hands. “Be warned… this will not be a smooth journey.”
“I’m not so sure about this,” she said. Pomander shrugged by way of reply and took Ryan’s hand.
“Then we will see you on our return, madam.”
Fred,” said Ryan. “Believe it or not, I know exactly what you’re going through right now.”
Fred gasped as Ryan and Pomander began to fade from sight. Without thinking, she grabbed her disappearing brother’s hand, and felt a gut-wrenching dislocation.