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Homeward found by S.C. Virtes



O

n the 18th of May the sun went down and J headed for the door. He grabbed a green apple, took a bite, fumbled for the skeleton keys, patted himself down -- all his pocket stuff was there. He threw the deadbolt and pulled the door open. His watch said 7:30. His night was already ruined.

He expected to step outside, probably complain about the stiff breeze blowing in off the sandy wastes. Instead he found himself in his bedroom, his dull room with magazines piled high, his room with the piles of laundry (all flavors), his room which needed a woman's touch or a merciful sledgehammer. His empty evening mug of coffee was right where he had left it. And there was no door behind him. His hands had been holding a doorknob; now they were holding each other.

He left the bedroom and stepped out into the hall. The hallway was curved, when it should have been straight. The dusty photos on the walls followed this curve. He reached out and touched one of the cold glass frames. The surface rippled. The ripples raced across the glass and ended at its edge.

J scratched his head. He picked up his briefcase and went into the living room. From there, all he had to do was open the door, step out, complain about the sandy breeze, get in his car and spin off to work. He could see the car through the window, though the view was heavily obstructed by the hedges which had grown wildly out of control just outside.

The angles were wrong. Too soft. They flowed together. This wasn't his usual depressing cubicle of a home. "Nightshift is messing with my head," he swore, then he stepped outside. Back into his bedroom.

The mug was still there on the dresser. A cool stream flowed out of it, down the front of the cheap fakewood storage unit, onto a carpet which was coarser and thicker than he recalled.

He headed out into the hallway with a sense of panic building, off in the lonely distance of his soul. The hall was nearly circular now. The photos no longer showed half-forgotten family members. They now showed totally-forgotten landscapes -- places he had once visited. Long ago. In his childhood. But his childhood memories had been destroyed, replaced by the vast tomes of technical knowledge he needed to read to keep up with his job. Every year he had felt his childhood slipping further away, but he recognized the places in the photos right away. The lighthouse in Bar Harbor, the Mexican Restaurant in North Platte, the plaque at the top of Pikes Peak, the general store in Santa Ysabel.

He broke out in a sweat. His arms started to itch. He scratched at the thick hairs idly. Then he dashed toward the front door and ended up in his bedroom again.

The rocky stream was still there, cascading cool waters over the shirt-lined river bed where he had once slept. The carpet was the comforting crunch of matted pine needles as only Mother Nature could weave them. He knelt down and grabbed a handful of the warm fragrant earth. This, also, was a distant memory returning. Childhood again. No, even further back. Greater than himself, more than he could name, less than he could grasp. He let the soft needles fall between his fingers and return to their natural place.

His arms were very hairy. He put his hands to his face; it was also hairy, and he could feel heavy bones pushing up from beneath the skin. As he bounded to the bathroom, there was a soothing swirl of air in the circular hallway, rustling the stately shrubs which had decided to come inside. The bathroom door faded as he reached for it, though he clearly noticed that the doorknob was just below eye level. His arms seemed to grow as he reached for the fading remains of his life. That golden doorknob. His lump-of-coal life.

Behind and just above the treetops, the sun came out from behind the cloud of the pale ceiling and warmed his heart. The bathroom was a lily pond with ducks frolicking and frogs calling. A dangling vine brushed against him as he soaked up the rays of remembrance. He batted it away at first. Then he scratched his head. Then his armpits. Then he grabbed the vine, and its gnarled texture felt firm and fine in his grasp. It was time to go for a swing.



s.c. virtes is a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America. He has had stories published in Analog, Beyond, Other Worlds, Space & Time and elsewhere. He lives in Torrance, California.


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