Here again is my first post, first published on February 2nd 2023. I think it is worth revisiting, since it encapsulates one of the key features of fantasy: the unexpected. I set it up as a thought experiment, for myself as well as for any visitors who wanted to try it.
You are walking down a hallway that is very familiar to you since you are in the house you lived in for many years. It is all the more surprising that you should see an unfamiliar door in a shadowy corner of the hall. You have no time to think about it now, but later, it preys on your mind.
Now continue the story. (Here is how it went for me.)
Conrad went home, but the thing still weighed on his mind, niggling at him so much that he lost his temper with the dog.
“Sorry Moxie, sorry!”
But the dog whined and crawled into a corner.
Even if I was hallucinating, Conrad said to himself, even then it shouldn’t bother me the way it does. And I don’t think I was hallucinating.
Kelvin had talked about Waltham Heights when they were children together,how grand it was, and somehow, with him, it was not boasting. Rather it had been the focus of his childhood memories, that magical summer when they ran on the beach and made up stories about ‘Kelvin’s grand house’. It became his fantasy place, and it had, indeed, entered his dreams. He never actually went there, at least not until Kelvin had contacted him out of the blue, decades later.
“I don’t know if you remember how we used to talk about Waltham, but if you have any free time in the next week you might like to call by?”
Conrad had spent five wonderful days, going on walks, reminiscing. It was all curiously familiar, and yet utterly strange.
Both men were widowers.
Conrad was treated like royalty, Kelvin’s handyman carrying out his bags on that final day. They took a short cut to the car through ’the dark passage’, as theycalled it: a dogleg of a hallway with its curious bend right in the middle, and always beset with ghosts or ghastly sounds in the stories they told.
“Sorry it’s a bit dim,” said Kelvin. “I’m getting the wiring redone.”
“It was always dark when you talked about it. Hello, you never mentioned a door in the middle.”
“Door? There is no door off this passage. Except of course the main one into the yard, which is right here.”
It was just that remark which bothered Conrad. A most trivial matter really, and no doubt there was a simple explanation. Like … a real door, or something that looked like one, leaning up against the wall. But in that dark corner?
Conrad had some business calls to make. That meant a little time in town, stay- ing at a nice hotel. It was when he returned home that the problem really began. He began to dream about that door. There was something familiar about it, for one thing, something he couldn’t place.
Conrad booked his passage.
He approached Waltham Heights as the light was fading.
“Oh, James, I’m sorry to trouble you …”
“I’m sorry, Sir, the master is away at present.”
“It’s just that I may have left something behind.”
“I checked your room very thoroughly, Sir.”
“Yes, but I may have dropped something in that passage that goes to the yard. Do you mind?”
“Well, Sir, that part of the house is being rewired right now, but I could certainly look for you. Would you like to come indoors? It’s getting chilly, and I could pro- vide you with some tea.”
“Why, thank you James.”
“There now, take a seat, Sir.”
Conrad sank down in the over-padded chair, and wondered how he would get back out of it. The room was swimming before his eyes. It must be overheated in here, he thought.
He was a small boy again, remembering it all. And wasn’t this the very room where he had slept? Anna used to spoil him, giving him sweets. Anna the Nanna, they used to call her. “You mustn’t give them sweets, bad for them.” Who said that? Grumpy Bear, they called him, or Grumpy the gardener. Or was that was Kelvin’s past, not his? He blinked hard, trying to stay awake.
James had gone. James was nowhere to be seen. Now was his chance to sneak up that dark passage, find that secret door. Conrad moved furtively, but full of that glee that breaking barriers, breaking social norms, can bring. He was a small boy again.
And yes! The door was there, just as he had seen it, and stretching up almost to the high ceiling. An old kind of door, wooden panelling, solid, a big brass handle, if he could reach it. If he could stretch up enough. A tall order for a little child. The sense of familiarity was stronger than ever. It was a door from somewhere out of his earliest days, and he just had to reach, reach … get through, get through.
And at last he had it, the handle turned, the door was opening.. He slid forward into the soft, velvety dark, a welcoming, friendly dark such as had accompanied him to sleep as a little child. That forgotten time when the nights were holy and the days stretched out forever.
“Get him on the floor, on his back! Someone get the AED!”
“I’ve summoned the ambulance, Sir. They should be here any minute.”
“My God, it’s Conrad! What the devil was he doing here?”
“He seemed to think he’d left something behind. I’m pretty sure he didn’t. I
made a thorough check of his room, Sir.”
“Of course, as you always do, Martin.”
“I didn’t expect you home today, or I would have …”
“No, the conference finished early.”
“One curious thing. He kept calling me James.”
“James? Oh yes, that was the name of the valet we once had. Well before your time.” Kelvin frowned.
“He told me he has a brain tumour, Martin. I would have had him stay longer if I could.”
“He looked strange when he appeared, Sir. I went to get him some tea, and
when I came back he was kneeling on the table and reaching up into the air. Very odd.” Martin remained close by the patient, kneeling. He put the defibrillator aside and contemplated him once more.
“At least he’s breathing now. Brain tumour? I fancy it would have been a heart attack, Sir, judging by that pallor.”
“No doubt you are right, Martin. You usually are. Although not quite right this time.”
“I fancy he did leave something behind: his childhood. He came back here to look for it.”