100 Themes Challenge, Minot Edition: #8
THEME: 8. "Gateway"
STORYLINE: D Is For Damien storyline, Minot spinoff series, IDentity (unwritten novel)
RATING: R (adult language)
WORD COUNT: 3400+ words
SUMMARY: As I often do and will, I'll be using the theme "Gateway" in a symbolic manner. A gateway can be just that, a gateway, an opening in a wall or fence, but it can have the broader meaning of an entryway, a means of access to something. And oh boy, has this bit of imagery been stuck in my head for a while now, so I thought I may as well share it. I like to give various dreams of mine to my characters because, to be honest, said dreams can make a lot more sense when my characters have them. One such character is Det. Max Kristeva, whom you learned a good deal about in Scene 2, "Complicated," and 4, "Rivalry." A common theme in my dreams is of finding new--or more like, old but forgotten/overlooked--rooms, hallways, stairways, etc. in my house. A common interpretation of this theme is that the house stands for the dreamer, and to find new or forgotten areas means one is finding new or forgotten aspects of one's own personality. (In a currently untitled/unfinished novella, Kristeva lists several of my dreams which I've given to him--finding a new stairway parallel to the old one, halls/tunnels in the basement (his house has no basement), a new household in his closet, and, especially, a child's toyroom, the last of which really unnerves him, as it did me in the original dream, as the room reeks of death.) Well...when you have multiple personalities, doesn't it stand to reason this theme should show up rather often...? In this scene, Kristeva, who has only recently come to accept his multiple state, is learning a bit more about just how things are organized. He's relatively new at directly communicating in this manner, hence his confusion and trepidation. You have to admit, talking to yourself and having yourself talk back can be kind of unnerving.
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Kristeva opened his eyes.
He found himself staring at the ceiling. Nothing strange there, though for some reason he felt strange. After a moment he turned his head to look at Natalie, asleep beside him, her back to him; he stared at her in silence for a brief while, then turned his head back to look in the direction of the bathroom, where the small nightlight was glowing. After another pause he sat up, carefully pushed the blankets aside and padded to the door out of the master bedroom, making his way to the landing and past Natalie's art loft, to the tiny unused storage room beside it. He hesitated just briefly before pulling the chain on the lightbulb, and found himself looking at a small door set in the wall. One more pause, and then he'd opened it, and peered inside.
This late at night, it was almost impossible to make out any details of this part of the attic. He knew his way around well enough, however, from having thoroughly explored it all the way around the house, so all he did was duck his head enough to avoid hitting it on the slanting beams, and crept through the narrow entry area until he could turn left and enter the attic proper.
He'd lived in this house most of his adult life and it was only recently that he'd discovered the attic. Anyone else would have found that insufferably weird. Natalie certainly had. He'd been able almost to shrug it off, though it was odd, to be surrounded by this whole part of house he'd never known existed. That wasn't all, though. He slowed to a stop before a door set in the attic wall. He knew for a fact that it should open into empty space, because it was impossible for there to be more house there. Yet a door there was. This was when he realized that yes, he was dreaming, because he knew the door and knew that it did not, in fact, lead into empty space, and that this door did not exist in the actual attic. Yet here it was. He hardly allowed himself to hesitate this time, reaching out to grasp the knob and turn it, pushing it forward, stepping inside before he could lose his nerve as he knew he would if he waited too long. He stepped onto solid floor and let go of the door so it could swing shut behind him. He blinked a few times to adjust himself to the light, which, though somewhat diffuse, was certainly much brighter than the unlit attic. He got his bearings, then let his eyes roam over what lay before him, trying hard to keep his heartbeat steady.
It was nothing more than a long hallway with doors lining both sides. The doors looked like those in the police station, with their small frosted-glass panes which let light out but didn't allow one to make out anything that lay within. Each one bore a single number, stenciled in bold and black on the pane of glass. 1. 2. 3. 4. On and on, down the hall. He didn't like to guess how long it might be or how many doors it ultimately had.
He glanced to his right, at the door marked 1. It was the only one that was cracked open. He peered inside, knowing what he would see, but did it anyway. The room was empty. That always unnerved him. He pulled his head back out.
There was no door across from Door One. Doors Two and Three were right across from each other, and were nearest to him. He glanced between the two, then grasped the knob of Door Three and pushed it open, again without thinking too much.
"Wow. So he knows how to open a door now."
Kristeva blinked again. He was looking into an office similar to the sheriff's at the Sheriff's Department, only it wasn't the sheriff's office, as the sheriff wasn't seated at the solitary desk. The desk more resembled one he remembered, with its antiquated computer and stacks of folders piled haphazardly--he'd never been one to organize things that much, it was what drove Devetko crazy about him--and there was a stuffed fox, the joke gift Deputy Hatcher had gotten him when he'd still worked at the county post. When one squeezed it, it would let out a barking noise. He remembered holding it aloft and barking at Hatcher across the gap in the middle of the room that divided their desks at the Sheriff's Department, back when he was a deputy.
The nameplate on the desk read DEP. MAX KRISTEVA.
A man in a sheriff's deputy uniform was seated at the desk with his feet up on it, tossing a small metal ball from one hand to the other. It jangled as he tossed it. Kristeva stared at himself for a few moments in silence and didn't dare speak up, as if speaking might somehow make the dream real. Dep. Kristeva finally let the ball drop into one hand and tilted his head back to get a better look at Det. Kristeva, pursed his lips in that vaguely disapproving manner Natalie had once chided him about, then pulled his legs back to lower his feet and pulled his chair forward. He held the ball up between thumb and forefinger.
"Remember these? One of a set. Hatch always loved to get us the stupidest gifts. Supposedly these help alleviate stress, or some such New Agey shit we've never believed in but you were too polite to ever let her know. Just so you know, she knows. She always has." He jangled it. "No response? Whatever." He dropped the ball in its velvet-lined box, shut it, and, opening a desk drawer, dropped the box inside and slammed it again with a clatter.
"Careful," Det. Kristeva snapped, without thinking.
"Oh. He speaks, too." Dep. Kristeva brushed at some invisible dust on the desktop. "Relax, kiddo. This is a dream, and the real box is safely stashed away in one of those messes you call your desk drawers at the city post."
"So this is a dream?"
"You sound kind of skeptical. You want me to reassure you?"
"I couldn't say. For some reason you're the one who keeps showing up."
"You realize I'm you, right?"
"I'm not as stupid as you seem to think."
"I don't know, sometimes I seriously wonder." He stretched his arms over his head, an exaggerated gesture that grated on Kristeva's nerves. "I could sit here explaining all this shit to you, but it all seems so obvious, and obvious is boring as, well, shit."
"I don't need an explanation, then. I'd appreciate not having this fucking dream again, though."
"Not my decision."
"Why are you dressed like that?"
"Why are you dressed like that?"
Kristeva stared at the deputy for a moment more, teeth grinding, then turned and headed out the door.
"Oh, come on!" his own voice called after him. "Seriously? Are you seriously going to be this pissy--? I'll have you know I built this place, for what little that's worth--!"
Kristeva crossed the hall, grasped the knob of Door Two, and entered.
Another office, different design, like an office at the city post. Another desk, this one neat and orderly, with a newer computer and no haphazard piles of folders; the fox was still there but it was stashed away beside the monitor and not as conspicuous. The monitor blocked his view for a second; then the man on the other side leaned sideways somewhat, and they looked at each other.
"I never wore that uniform," Kristeva said, unable to hide the irritation in his voice. He looked at the nameplate. OFFICER MAX KRISTEVA. "And I never held that rank here," he added.
Officer Kristeva shrugged. "The sheriff's deputy uniform was already taken. You're a plainclothes detective. I guess this is what I'm left with."
"What the hell is with the uniforms anyway--?"
"We...he felt it would be beneficial for there to be distinguishing characteristics in the Hall. So everything isn't alike the way it usually is. So you don't find it so confusing," he added at last, apparently seeing the look on Kristeva's face.
"Nice try, but complete and utter fail," Kristeva said.
Officer Kristeva pursed his lips; Det. Kristeva felt like grabbing something heavy and hurling it at him. "So I'm taking it you didn't stick around for the explanation. Never mind," he interrupted, before the detective could speak. "I can tell just from looking at you...I knew this was a stupid idea." He took a breath and let it out, shoving the monitor aside. "I'm not sure how much you want me to tell you. I realize this entire thing's been...well, beyond confusing, to use understatement..."
"You've got that fucking right."
"...But you have to understand we're trying to be as coherent as possible. If it were my choice we would've kept it more low key for now."
"Oh. You mean all the Post-It Notes. And now the weird voicemails from myself. Heads up, people tend to look at you funny when you check your voicemail and they hear you talking to yourself. Just so you know. For future reference."
"Well, for future reference, you could always take the phone call privately." Officer Kristeva held up his hand before Det. Kristeva could retort, pointing toward the door; Kristeva reflexively looked toward it. "Our offices are directly opposite for obvious reasons. I'm assuming you understand why Room One is empty, seeing as it's your room, and you're here right now."
"I thought maybe there was another reason," Kristeva said quietly, not really wanting to know.
"Do you really want to know?"
He fought not to grimace, turned back to the desk. "Not right now."
"Fair enough. Number Three..." He trailed off, biting his lip.
"You may as well keep going. Both of you are kind of obvious, now."
"All right. Number Three...Deputy Kristeva...he thinks the uniforms are hokey, but chose that one since he's been around longest. Longer than either one of us, I guess." He paused again, peering up as if to carefully gauge Det. Kristeva's reaction to his rather too-quick choice of words; Kristeva said nothing, still not wanting to get into this too much more than was necessary. "You understand the symbolism, at least."
"I'm newer than any of you but I spend as much time ou..." He glanced around the office, hesitated, then rephrased. "I spend as much time in my office as you two do, so a policeman's uniform was required, as long as we're following a theme. Technically, I should be Det. Kristeva. But that's you. Three is Dep. Kristeva, and so since I'm basically the newbie I guess that makes me Officer Kristeva. As fictional as that is."
"Yet you're not at the Sheriff's Department," Det. Kristeva pointed out; Officer Kristeva looked back at him. "Because you were cr--you came along while I worked--since I still work here," he added, answering his own question. "At the city post."
Officer Kristeva nodded. He was holding some folders now, and he shuffled them, as if that meant anything. "This is the most important stuff. The reason you keep dreaming this Hallway. This is the way he's organized it all. Normally, as far as I was aware there wasn't really any sort of organization, we just functioned. But now that we're trying to sort things out..."
"I get it." He glanced toward a side doorway, just noticing it. "So, where does that lead to--?"
"Next door. Room Four. I don't have access," Officer Kristeva added, almost as an afterthought; when Kristeva turned back to him he shrugged a little. "Speak with Number Three. He has access to Rooms Four and Five. But I doubt he'll ever open them up for you. I don't know what's inside them or what anything looks like."
"Still not ready to let you play in the bigger sandbox, huh."
"It's frustrating but you have to understand where he's coming from. He's been here a lot longer and knows a lot more. Four and Five aren't like us. Maybe, sometime, something more can come of this but not..."
"I get it. That's not what's bugging me right now." He waited until he had Officer Kristeva's--Number Two's--attention again. "What I keep meaning to ask about is this...'Hall' itself. One? Two? Three Four Five?" He paused, then said, "Six, Seven...?"
Number Two nodded, looking vaguely wary. "But you knew that already, obviously," he said.
"I guess I was starting to." A very long pause. "So...Eight? Nine? Fifteen? Fifty? Five Hundred? Where does it end?"
"Do you really want to know?"
"No, I don't. But I have to find out sometime."
"I don't know. I'm not sure Three even knows."
"Does anybody fucking know, then?"
"Seven might. But nobody talks to Seven, except Three." A brief pause. "And even Three rather wishes he didn't exist." He pointed at the exit. "Take a look, though I'm pretty sure you know what I'm talking about."
Kristeva hesitated, really not wanting to leave what seemed like the only sane room in the place, but finally turned and departed. He didn't head back into Room Three, but instead walked down the hallway a bit, glancing at Rooms Four and Five--their little windows too heavily frosted to make out anything within--he made a point of not staring at Room Six for too long, before halting by the door marked 7. He blinked, though, as the 7 was not the only thing stenciled there.
Det. Wesley Singer
Minot Police Dept.
He stared at this numbly, uncomprehending. Without him willing it, his hand reached out and grasped the knob, rattling it. Locked.
"Are you serious?"
He glanced back. The door to Room Three was open and Dep. Kristeva--Number Three--leaned against the jamb, rolling a sucker stick from one side of his mouth to the other.
"Thinking you can actually get in?" he added, by way of clarification.
Kristeva took a step back from the door. "It's my Hallway, isn't it?" he snapped back, hating the defensive note that entered his voice.
Number Three blinked at him, then started laughing. "Your Hallway...? Take a look. Your office is empty. This isn't your Hallway. I'm the one who made it, but it isn't even my Hallway. You have a lot of nerve, stepping in here and assuming you own the place when that isn't the deal at all. Christ, every time I think maybe you're starting to understand something..."
"Whose is it, then?" Kristeva shot back. "If you're not laying claim to it? This is my dream, and my head, remember. Just snap my fingers and wake up and all of you are gone."
Number Three rolled his eyes and his sucker stick. "Yeah...so much for progress. I honestly thought you got it. I don't have the key to Singer's door. That just isn't how things work around here. I can open up Four or Five, if you really wanted it, but there seem to be lots of things you just don't want to see."
"I just want in to see who the hell owns this Hallway," Kristeva said. "Or do you not have that key, either?"
"Oh, I have that key all right. Follow me. Right over here."
He turned, not toward Room Seven, but toward the door marked 5.
"Wait a minute," Kristeva said, confused.
"You said you wanted to know. Time to put up or shut up." Number Three stooped to insert one key on a ring--Kristeva tried to see how many keys there were, but he couldn't--into the keyhole, twisted it, and then turned the knob. He cracked the door open and waved Kristeva forward with an exaggerated gesture. "Take a look. Room Number Five."
Kristeva hesitated, then steeled himself and stepped forward. From his angle he couldn't see anything past the door, but as he drew closer he thought he heard birdsong, and that made no sense. He could see the inside of the room only when he stepped directly in front of the open door. There he halted and stared, dumbfounded.
He wasn't peering into an office, or even what he'd half been expecting to see--the playroom he kept dreaming about, the room done up in blue, the room he always ended up fleeing, but which looked like it was meant for a child, and what other type of room would Five be staying in? But it was no playroom. Instead, he found himself staring into a sunny field, a large tree offering shade by a fence. Horses were visible grazing in the distance. He could smell the heady scent of wildflowers and hear the drone of cicadas.
"It's outside," he said, without thinking.
"Exactly," Number Three said, and shut the door. He stepped in front of Kristeva and leaned toward him until their noses almost touched. "Like I said," he said under his breath, "you think you know everything here, but the truth is you don't know shit. You don't own this Hall, even I don't own it. I built it, but I'm not the one who created it. I just came up with the design. The raw materials, those came from someplace else. You think this is all in your head and you're in charge, but you're in charge of nothing. Remember. Your office is empty. This here behind this door? This isn't an office. This is the real thing. The only reason you're here right now, the only reason we're standing talking to each other, is because of him." He jerked a thumb at Door Five. "You want to know so bad who's in charge. As much as I hate to break it to you that it's nothing more than a little kid, it is. But a little kid can deal with only so much. That's why there are proxies. Deputies, if you will." He said this word with a hint of a sneer, the sucker stick bobbing in his mouth. "I've been around longer than you have. You do a good job putting up a nice functional front. But keep in mind that's all you are, same as the rest of us--except him." He leaned back and removed the stick from his mouth. "And keep in mind it's only because of me that you haven't snapped by now, because for whatever reason I'm forced to keep you around. You are, after all, Number One--though the shrink sure gave you the wrong name. And I keep wondering if I should renumber these doors." He dropped the stick in a trash receptacle that had seemingly appeared out of nowhere beside the door. "So...I'm guessing there are no further questions? You want to remember this when you wake up, or not?"
The two of them stared at each other in silence for a long while. For some reason it really niggled at Kristeva, deep down, that his double didn't waver, the same as he didn't. He hated how like looking into a mirror this was, except his reflection was wearing different clothes, and had a different expression on his face, the corner of his mouth twitching upward while Kristeva was fairly certain he wasn't smiling at all. He felt like grinding his teeth, then stopped, knowing the deputy would see it.
"Wake up," he said quietly, and blinked, and was staring at the ceiling again.
He looked at this for a moment, letting his heartbeat slow; a glance at Natalie showed him she still slept. He silently rose, left the bedroom, went to the little storeroom, turned on the light and went through the little door. Passed through the narrow entry, turned left, headed for the attic wall. And stared for a few moments at the blank expanse before him. Wooden planks. That was all.
Kristeva let out a breath, suddenly feeling unbelievably weary. Also feeling a little foolish, and more than a twinge uneasy, he made himself turn around and return to bed, where he lay on his back again; he reached out to touch his wife's shoulder, just to make sure she was real, and didn't pull away when she murmured in her sleep and rolled over and curled up next to him. He expected to flinch a little at the touch, but for some reason it managed to ground him a bit, and he shut his eyes. Despite that, however, it felt like ages before he fell asleep. Something new and empty yawned somewhere inside and he cringed at the thought of it.