It is quiet here in the Inbetween. I appreciate the silence. My job is not always a quiet one, but at least my home is. My home is not what most people think of as beautiful. There is no color here, merely different shades of gray. Even among the gray, there isn’t much. Just the grass, the sky, the wind, a small house with a big porch, and me. And the doors. Of course there are the doors. One door for every world in every dimension. They lie scattered across the north plain. On the other side of my house, the south side, there is The Door. I glance over the doors. None of them are open. Perfect. I step inside and brew myself a mug of tea. Its herbal scent spirals up pleasantly. I smile and step back out onto the porch, settling myself on the rocking chair.
A few minutes later, Colony VV58 Dimension 7998’s door starts pulsing. I sigh and put my tea down. I’ve never been a fan of that particular door. So few peaceful souls. I quickly stride over and open the door. A little boy steps through. He can’t be more than eight and barely reaches my waist. Like all souls, his eyes have vanished, leaving scabbed over sockets in their place.
“Where am I?” he asks.
“This is the Inbetween,” I tell him. “I am the Doorman. What is your name, child?”
“My name is Dew,” he says.
“I like that name,” I grin. “Now come, it’s time for you to go on.”
“Can’t I go back?” his voice trembles.
I kneel down and hug him tight. “I am sorry Dew, but it’s too late for that. Did you leave anyone behind?”
“Yes,” Dew chokes on tears. “My big brother. He’s gonna miss me so much.”
“Dew,” I say. “I can’t promise you much, but you will see your brother again someday. Okay?”
“I promise. Now come on, let’s get you to your new home.” I help him up. He holds my hand as we walk to the southern plain.
“How did you pass?” I ask.
“I got sick,” Dew stares at the ground. “Really sick. Mac went to go try and steal some medicine right before I died. He didn’t make it back fast enough though.”
“Is that your older brother?”
“Yeah. His real name’s Macarius, but everyone calls him Mac.”
“Like mac and cheese?”
“Yeah!” Dew’s face brightens. “You know what mac and cheese is?”
“Of course I do!” I laugh. “It’s only the best food ever!”
And then we reach The Door. I have guided billions of souls to The Door, but it still manages to strike me with awe every time. The thing about The Door is that it changes its appearance for every soul. Sometimes it’s wood, sometimes it’s metal, sometimes it looks like it stretches on forever and sometimes it's shorter than me. Dew’s door is beautiful. It’s only a bit taller than he is, made of swirls of colored — yes, colored — glass. Nothing can be seen from the other side except for the soft glowing light that shines through.
“Are you ready?” I ask.
“I’ll see Mac again someday?”
“When the time is right.”
“Okay.” He takes a deep breath and takes a step forward. He stops and turns back to look at me.
“Do you think I could come back and visit you?” he asks.
Huh? I had not expected that. I’ve been told that some souls come back and visit their Doormen after they’ve gone on, but none of mine ever have. I’ll admit, this little boy has made quite the impression on me.
“Of course you can,” I answer.
He smiles. I open The Door.
I’ve just returned to my porch and taken a sip of now-lukewarm tea when Colony VV58 Dimension 7998’s door begins to pulse again. I frown. It is a rare day when I am sent two from the same door, and even then they’re always hours apart, not minutes. I cautiously open the door. Another boy, but older than Dew. Seventeen or eighteen, I’d guess. His hair is darker than Dew’s, although only by a few shades. Most strikingly, his eyes are still there. They are red-rimmed and green and angry.
“Where is my brother?” he growls.
“You’re Mac?” I frown.
“It’s Macarius to you,” he sneers. “What have you done with my brother?”
“I haven’t done anything,” I sigh. “He has passed. Please return to your world.”
“Not while my brother’s in yours!”
“He’s not here,” I say. “How did you get through the door?” He clearly hasn’t passed.
“I walked in. It was just sitting there. Now, get out of my way!”
He shoves me aside. I let him. He can’t open any doors without a Doorman. I watch as Macarius wildly runs around the field, searching for his brother. He tries every door, but they do not open. Finally, he returns to me, a wild look in his eyes.
“He’s not here,” he pants.
“I’m aware,” I roll my eyes. “Please leave now.”
“Can I go where he is?” Macarius asks, his voice suddenly pleading instead of angry.
I sigh and walk toward my house. If Macarius is irrelevant, I might consider it. Maybe. But only because Dew loves his brother so much.
Macarius follows after me. I say nothing. Instead, I make my way to the basement.
My basement is filled with file cabinets. I do not know how many. They stretch on for farther than even I can see. I type the code for his world into the wall panel. The file cabinets rearrange themselves and I open the one closest to me. Macarius peers over my shoulder.
“Not for mortals,” I snap. He retreats. I quickly find his file and scan it. Hmmm. Interesting. I close the drawer and walk back to his door. I can hear his footsteps behind me. When we’ve reached the door, I turn and face him.
“No,” I say.
“What do you mean no?”
“My answer is no,” I repeat. “Goodbye, Macarius.” Before he can respond, I push him back through the door and slam it shut.
I must write a letter to maintenance. It seems this door is malfunctioning.
I heard back from maintenance today. No one will be available to come and fix my door for another century and a half. That is unfortunate.
Another day, another mug, another pulsing Colony VV58 Dimension 7998 door. It has been a couple years in that world’s time since I opened The Door for Dew. He visits me every now and then. We have tea and talk. It is rather nice. He has taken to calling me Dory, after insisting that I must have a name other than The Doorman. It’s a peculiar name, Dory, but I don’t mind it. Anyway, I haven’t heard from Colony VV58 Dimension 7998 in a while. I open the door. A young woman, around twenty I’d say, steps through. She has curly black hair that’s pulled back in a tight bun. She has a very determined face. I can tell she’s been through hardship.
“Who are you?!” she asks.
“I am The Doorman,” I say calmly. “Now come, it is time to go on.”
“So, I’m definitely dead then,” she groans.
“I’m afraid so,” I tell her.
“Ah, well,” she shrugs. “Guess it was only a matter of time.” Interesting. She doesn’t seem surprised by death like so many do.
We begin to walk. I do not hug her or hold her hand. She does not need me to.
“What is your name?” I ask.
“I’m Ria,” she replies.
“And how did you pass?”
“Well…” she clenches and unclenches her fists before continuing. “There’s a war going on where I’m from. The government, it’s corrupt, so a rebellion formed. I’m a soldier for the rebels. The war’s been going on for about five years now, and the battle I just died in, that was supposed to win it. I guess I’ll never know if we did or not. My best friend Mac and me were fighting some of the government’s soldiers, and I got shot. And that was it.”
“Your best friend’s name is Mac?” I ask.
“Aye,” she nods. “Real name’s Macarius though.”
“You are a brave soul,” I tell her.
“Ah, just doing my job,” Ria brushes it off, but I can see the smile she’s hiding.
And then we reach The Door. For Ria, it is a simple but strong oak door. It suits her perfectly.
“Are you ready to go on?” I ask. She nods. I open The Door.
I haven’t even gotten back to my porch before that door starts pulsing again. There’s a sinking feeling in my stomach, but I walk over anyway. I am the Doorman. My job is to open doors. I open the door. Macarius is on the other side. A little older, a couple new scars, not much wiser from the looks of it.
“Please leave,” I sigh.
“Bring back Ria and Dew,” he says fiercely.
“Because they’re dead, Macarius. They are dead and gone, and they are not coming back.”
“I don’t believe you!” He is half shouting with desperation. I pity him. I really do.
“Then you are a fool.” I slam the door shut.
Seven years have passed. I am sitting on my porch with my tea. I have not thought of Macarius in a long while. Dew still comes and visits, although a bit less every year. He is becoming so grown up. And yet, I have a bad feeling about today. That door just started pulsing.
With a plea to the stars above, I hope that whoever it is has never even heard the name Macarius. I open the door. An old woman steps out. She has gray hair streaked with pink dye and laugh lines around her mouth. I like her immediately.
“So, this is the afterlife?” She quirks her lip.
“Not quite,” I smile. “This is more like the hallway to the afterlife. Shall we go?”
“Please,” she says. “I’m an old, old woman and I’ve been ready to go for a long while. Now, my name is Carrie. What is yours?”
“I am the Doorman,” I say as we begin to walk.
“You must have a better name than that,” Carrie cackles.
I shrug. “My friends call me Dory.” Is it sad that a dead child is my only friend?
“Well then, Dory, how old are you?”
“A few thousand years.” It’s a rough estimate, because I truly don’t know. Age is meaningless if you’ve never been alive and can never die. “And you?”
Carrie cackles again. “Oh honey, even I don’t know that!”
I grin a bit too. I do like this Carrie.
“May I ask how you passed?” I inquire.
“Well that’s not very interesting, but all right,” Carrie says. “Now, as I said, I’ve been ready to die for a long time. I just wanted to see my grandkids one more time first, y’know? ‘Cept there’s this war going on and I’ve got no clue where they ended up. War ended a couple years ago, and eventually I get word that there’s this war hero named Macarius Thornwheeler.”
I stiffen, but Carrie keeps talking.
“So I think, hey! That’s my oldest grandkid! Anyways, it wasn’t hard for me to track him down. He told me that his little brother, Dew, had died years ago. That was pretty sad. He was a real cute kid. But at least I had my Macarius back. I picked out his name, y'know. Anyhoo, we’ve spent the last couple months catching up, and then I felt ready to go. So I did. Feel a bit bad for leaving him, but he’s a tough kid. He’ll be fine. That boyfriend of his’ll take care of him at any rate.”
Great. Another person Macarius loves who I’ll have to take away from him. I shove all thoughts of Macarius out of my head. My job is to peacefully guide souls to the next stage of their life. I love my job and some renegade human is not going to take that away from me.
“That was a very interesting story,” I tell Carrie.
“Aw, thanks doll,” she grins. Just then, we reach The Door. Carrie’s is an old-fashioned door, painted bright yellow with a window occupying most of the top half.
“Are you ready?”
“I sure am, kid!”
I open the door.
I groan as that damned door starts to pulse. Why can’t I just do my job in peace?! Still, I open the door. As expected, Macarius is on the other side. He’s almost thirty now. His cheeks look a bit fuller than the last time I saw him, so at least he’s eating better, even if those cheeks are streaked with tears.
“Bring her back,” he begs.
“Macarius,” I sigh. “She is gone. They are all gone. Carrie was ready to die, okay?”
“No!” The word rips out of him. “She couldn’t be! We barely had any time! She was the only family I had left!”
“I know,” I close my eyes. “I know.”
“Please, I’ll give you anything!”
“It doesn’t matter,” I say.
“You can’t bring back the dead, Macarius. They’re in a better place now.”
“Can’t I at least see them?!”
“Not unless you’re dead.”
“Then I want to die.”
“You have a boyfriend, right?” I ask.
“Yes.” His eyes widen. “Hector. You’re not going to take him from me too, are you?!”
“I don’t take people,” I say. “Souls come to me after they’ve already passed. And no, what I meant was, you’re not alone, Macarius. You have at least one person who cares about you, who would miss you if you were gone. Yes, you’ve lost a lot of people, but so has everyone in your world. Trust me, I would know. But all of them let go. You have to let go, Macarius. You have to let them go.”
He looks at me. His eyes are full of tears. “I don’t think I can,” he whispers.
I shut the door. Then I slide to the ground and put my head between my knees. I can’t keep doing this.
Request Form 55W
To: The Overseer
From: The Doorman
Request for no more relations of Macarius Thornwheeler to be sent to Sector 298.
Re: Request Form 55W
To: The Doorman
From: The Overseer
Response: Request denied.
Why do I even bother?
Colony VV58 Dimension 7998’s door hasn’t pulsed in what feels like forever, although I’ve stopped counting its years so I really couldn’t say. However, I always get a feeling of dread when I pass it. I pray the Overseer filled out the form wrong and that I will never see Macarius again.
But that damn door is pulsing again. Resigned to my fate, I go to open it. A boy walks in. Eleven or so, I’d guess. He has curly black hair and a scattering of freckles on his brown cheeks. Much too young to know Macarius, right?
“Hello there,” I say.
“Hi,” he squeaks. “How did I get here?”
That’s interesting. Usually souls at least have some idea that they’ve passed.
“There’s no easy way to say this,” I sigh. “But your body is dead. Your soul has passed from your former dimension.”
“So where am I now?” he asks.
“You are in the Inbetween. I am the Doorman. On the other side of my house, there’s another door. Once you pass through there you can continue on.”
“What if I don’t want to go?”
“What is your name?” I inquire.
“Sammy,” he says.
“Okay, Sammy.” I crouch down to put a hand on his shoulder. “I am sorry to say this, but there is no going back. There is only forward. You’ll have another life on the other side. A nice life. It’s a good place.”
“How do you know that?” he challenges me.
I smile. Most souls don’t.
“Because I’ve been there before.”
“What about my dads?” Sammy frowns, his voice a bit more urgent.
“They’re still alive?”
“I think so.”
“Then when they die, your souls will be reunited.”
“But how long is that gonna be?!”
“I don’t know,” I say sadly. “I don’t know.”
Sammy lets me walk him to The Door. I don’t ask him how he passed. I can tell he doesn’t know. Normally, I love my job. I love to hear different souls’ stories. I love meeting so many different people. I love providing a calm journey to their next stage of life. But right now, I want to cry. Sammy is not a peaceful soul. There is nothing I can do to fix that. I wish there was. I really do. I open The Door.
Somehow I’m not surprised when that door starts pulsing, not even thirty seconds after Sammy went through The Door. With a horrible, knotted feeling in my chest, I open that door. As expected, Macarius is standing there. However, he is not facing me. His back is turned and he seems to be arguing with someone back in his world. I peer around him to see a man of about forty. He is slightly taller than Macarius, but with wider shoulders and much curlier hair. He is wearing thick-rimmed glasses, but I can tell that his eyes are swollen and red. Fresh tears are rolling down his puffy cheeks.
“Macarius,” he says, his voice shaky. “Please don’t do this. I can’t lose you, too.”
“I have to do this, Hector,” Macarius sounds almost pleading. “I have to try.”
“Macarius,” I sigh. He whirls around to see me.
“You,” he growls.
“Macarius,” I say again. “There is nothing for you here.” I move to close the door.
“NO!” he cries and launches himself into the Inbetween. “GIVE ME BACK MY SON!!”
“I can’t.” Now I’m starting to cry. I never cry. “I am sorry.”
“THEN GIVE HIM BACK!!!” he shouts.
I shake my head, tears streaming down my face. He charges at me, fists raised. I sidestep. He roars and attacks me again. Again, I skip out of the way. I will not fight him. This continues for a few more minutes. He never lands a hit. I can’t stop sobbing. Finally, he gives up.
“WHY?!” he lets out a guttural scream. “WHY MUST I LOSE EVERYONE?!”
“I don’t know,” I say quietly.
I don’t know what to say. I don’t think there is anything I can say. Macarius stares at me, his chest heaving. I look away. Eventually, I hear heavy footsteps moving away from me. I look up. Macarius is gone. With a deep breath, I go back to that door. I look through. Macarius has vanished, but Hector is still there. I can now see that he is in a hospital room. He is sitting in an uncomfortable looking chair next to an empty bed.
“How did he pass?” I ask. Hector raises his head, a surprised look on his face.
“He… He got run over by a car on the way home from a friend’s house.”
“Oh,” I say before sitting down on the grass on my side of the door. “You’re Hector.”
“And you’re the Doorman,” he sighs. I nod.
“If I could have saved him,” I say, “I would have.”
“I know,” Hector says sadly.
“You’ll take care of Macarius?”
“As much as he’ll let me,” Hector answers. I nod and stand back up.
“Do me a favor and die after he does.” I close the door.
And so time moved on. I guide thousands of more souls to the afterlife. Macarius presumably continues living his life. Dew rarely visits me anymore. I miss him, of course, but it is probably for the best. It is hard to look at his face and not think of Macarius’ pain. And then, one day, that door begins to pulse. Perhaps, just perhaps, Macarius has finally died.
“Hector,” I say as I open the door. For it is him. His hair has a couple gray streaks, but he looks otherwise the same. Except for his eyes, of course. His eyes are gone. Macarius will end me for this.
“Doorman,” he nods.
“Please tell me Macarius has already passed,” my voice is uncharacteristically shaky.
“I did try,” he sighs.
I don’t think I can do this again. I slowly drop to the ground. I stare off into space, one thought echoing around my brain. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
I’m sorry that death exists. I’m sorry that a man who never had much has had to lose everything. And even though I killed none of them, I am sorry that I had any part in their passings.
I feel Hector’s hand on my shoulder. That is wrong. I am supposed to give comfort to passing souls. Not the other way around.
“I am sorry,” I say. “I’m supposed to be helping you.”
Hector shakes his head. “I’ll be okay, Doorman. I think you need someone more than I do right now.”
I don’t respond. I am not supposed to need anyone.
We stay on the grass for what feels like a long time but is really only a couple of minutes. I pull myself to my feet. Hector follows suit.
“Are you ready?” I ask.
“If you are.”
I take a deep breath. “I am.”
We walk toward The Door.
“How did you pass?”
“I was wondering if you would ask that,” Hector smiles sadly.
He sighs. “Brain cancer.”
“That’s… terrible.” Of all the ways people can die, I think disease might be the worst. A long, drawn out death that you can see coming but can’t stop.
“Doorman,” Hector says. “What’s on the other side?”
“You’ll see in a minute,” I tell him. “It’s easier to see than to explain.”
Hector rephrases the question. “Is Sammy on the other side?”
“Yes,” I nod.
“Thank you,” he murmurs.
And then we are at The Door. I like Hector’s. It is a nice green, one I haven’t seen in centuries. Wooden with a peculiar looking doorknob.
I open The Door.
I’m already waiting at that door when it starts pulsing. I open it. Macarius stumbles through. He is a wreck. He has, I think, always been a wreck, but in this case he is now a wreck that has been shredded to pieces and set on fire. I catch him before he falls and carefully lower him to the ground. He buries his head in my shoulder and I hold him tightly. He starts to weep. I hug him tighter. His sobs are punctuated by shrieked whispers of “Why?” and “Please!” and “Hector, come back.” I do not say a word, and simply continue to hold him.
I do not know how long we stay like that. It might have been minutes. It might have been days. I really can’t say. Eventually, he pulls away and manages to get himself back through his door. I close it softly behind him. Then I walk back to my house and into my practically unused bedroom. I throw a blanket over my head. I think I will stay here in this world of gray fuzziness and perfect silence.
Colony VV58 Dimension 7998 sends me many more souls. I have not seen Macarius since Hector died. I used to love my job. Now all these people’s passings? They just make me sad.
Like many times before, I am sitting on my porch, drinking my tea. And like many times before, the door to Colony VV58 Dimension 7998 begins to pulse. I put down my tea and walk to the door. I twist the handle and open it. Macarius’ familiar face greets me on the other side. He’s much older than the last time I saw him. His hair has gone white and his skin sags where it hasn’t wrinkled. What’s more, his eyes are gone. The man who could not accept death has finally died.
“Hello, old friend,” he smiles. “Can I go now?”
“You may,” I smile back.
We walk through the grass, arm in arm. We speak no words, for we understand each other now. Finally, we reach The Door. It’s oddly blank. A simple white rectangle. That does not suit Macarius at all.
Suddenly, I understand. That hollow feeling in my chest. I loved my job. But more than that, I love the souls I got to guide to their next life. I miss those souls. With a sudden moment of clarity, I realize that the souls I want to see the most are Macarius’ souls. I miss Hector and his steadying calm. And I want to know if Sammy has found peace. I want to sit and listen to all the stories Carrie has to tell. I would like to talk to Ria again. I think we could be friends. Mostly, though, I miss Dew. His perpetual kindness and caring. How his voice gets all squeaky when he’s excited. The way he can see the beauty in the world that so many souls have forgotten to look for. I’ve grown to love him like he was my own brother. He hasn’t visited in so long.
And as I glance at Macarius, I realize that I will miss him, too. So strange how I’ve grown to care about the person I once dreaded most. I never thought I’d go on.
“Macarius,” I say slowly, “I think I’ll go with you.”
“The Doorman?” He grins. “Going on?”
“Call me Dory,” I smile. I open The Door.
Annika Liss is a fifteen year old who lives in Durham, Connecticut, USA. She loves writing and reading, especially sci-fi and fantasy. Some of her other hobbies are french horn, guitar, drawing, and attempting to keep her D&D group from murdering any more dragons.
"door and snow -Black and white" by Chris_Hawes is marked with CC BY 2.0. To view the terms, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/?ref=openverse