The next day, dressed in my new clothes and wearing a sensible pair of boots, I put on my warm grey wool pea coat, wrapped my scarf around my neck and took a cab to Hanover Street. All this while my family was still sleeping off the celebrations of the night before. I’d grabbed leftovers for breakfast beforehand, knowing better than to go out without eating. I had two rolls stuffed with breakfast sausage wrapped in a handkerchief in my pocket for later and a thermos of tea in the other pocket to help keep me warm.
Of course, it was more milk and sugar than tea, but there was enough tea in there to flavor it all. The cabby took the twenty I owed him and I started walking down Hanover Street. The note, and my dream, and said to ask for him at Hanover Street. Several little shops lined the street but were closed. A small grocery store had just turned on its light and put out the open sign.
Variel had wanted to come with, but I’d overruled her in favor of looking less like a crazy person. That was a difficult thing as the light posts seemed determined for me to talk to them. I went inside the grocery store and walked to the front counter. A man too cheerful to be real stood there, smiling and filling his register with change.
“Good morning miss, how can I help you?” He smiled so brightly, sunshine practically shone from his teeth.
“I’m looking for David Crowley,” I replied.
He blinked for a moment. “David Crowley?”
“Yes. David Crowley.”
“One moment miss.” He shuffled through some papers under the register before coming up with a yellow post it. “Here you are.”
I took the post it, which bore an address two doors down from the grocer. “Thank you.”
“No problem. Mr. Crowley left instructions to nearly every shop on the street to hand out his address to anyone that asked for it.”
“Oh yes, he was a popular man. Came here for lunch.”
“Thanks again.” I tucked the post it into my pocket and left the grocer. Two doors down at number seven Hanover Street, there was a red door with a silver knob. I thought my key would fit. I tugged the knot loose and slipped it off my neck. I took a breath, shuddering, and pushed the key into the lock, it fit. I turned it, and there came a click as the door was unlocked.
With nerves on fire, I withdrew the key to tuck it into my pocket and turn the knob. The door swung open on a staircase leading down. The smell of old air and heat met my nostrils as a wave of warm air rushed out.
I stepped inside, the tiny landing just holding myself, and closed the door behind me. The landing plunged into darkness and I spent a moment in the snickering black before finding the light switch to bring the simple fixture above my head to life.
It was so much warmer in here than outside where Winter’s grip had yet to loosen, and would not for some months. After a moment of uncertainty, I took the stairs down. It was a single flight ending in another door. But there was no knob on this door. No lock. I could see no way of opening the door. I felt the confusion and pain rise to the surface of the frozen lake of my emotions, pressing it down with quick breaths.
I placed a hand on the door, wishing it to open with a whisper.
Who are you? The door asked.
“Catherine Crowley.” I whispered. “Catherine Elizabeth Crowley.”
The door swung open as the last syllable left my lips. The space beyond was dark, but as I stepped inside, lights whirred to life overhead. My eyes at first refused to accept what I was seeing. It was a lab of some sort. Wooden tables lined a room somewhere in the measurement of nine by nine meters square. There were two tables in the center of the room.
Every table but those two was covered in all manner of glass tubing, jars and bottles with labels I couldn’t read. There was a smell in the air, of dust and sulfur. Whatever had happened in this place…it had happened some time ago. Dust covered everything in its soft embrace. On the table closest to myself, there was a box clean of dust.
“How strange.” I found myself at the table with long strides. The box had not a single speck of dust and was the only object occupying this table. The second table was covered in sheaves of paper with more words I couldn’t read. But the box. The box was important it said. It was locked, and over the heart shaped lock were three letters. D. H. C, under the lock were three more: C. E. C. My initials…and David’s.
The key was still in my pocket, and I was starting to get an idea. I pulled it out and slipped it into the lock. It fit again. I turned the key and the box allowed me to open it. Inside there was another box. A smaller box. And this box also let me know it was important. The second important box was not locked.
The second important box contained a third important box. And the third important box contained a fourth. And the fourth contained a fifth and the fifth a sixth and at last the sixth contained a seventh. And the seventh box contained a folded envelope and a piece of chalk. The envelope had no self-conceived notions of its own importance, but it did take note that I should take the key before the boxes decided to keep it. I took the advice, tying the key back around my neck.
The envelope opened easily and the chalk decided to reside in my pocket. In the envelope there was a slip of paper. On the slip of paper, in David’s handwriting, were the words;
Ask a question, open a door. Now, find the next lock and start walking down the winding road. It’s a long journey, and a dangerous thing I ask. Keep your imagination close, and your chalk closer.
D. H. C.
It was chalk. Chalk on David’s fingertips when he came home from work at night. From the lab. This lab. The lab I never went to see because I trusted my husband. I still trusted him but…I didn’t understand. My coat hugged my shoulders to comfort me. I sighed. I’d opened a door, two doors. What question did I need to ask?
It wasn’t, how did David die. It wasn’t even why did David die.
“Is David dead?” I said it out loud. I didn’t expect anyone to answer.
The whole room, every stick of furniture and every knick knack shouted at me. A single syllable. A single word.
It wasn’t yes.
I felt my knees shake. “Why did he leave?”
The room didn’t know. But I felt danger. I felt fear. And everything was too much. Too many tiny shouts of their fright. I fell to my knees.
The room fell silent, only hedging apologetic. I took a shaking breath.
David wasn’t dead. But he was gone. He’d left me. David wouldn’t have left me without good reason. Had it been David that put the key under the tree? Had he really been there last night in bed with me?
I rubbed my ring. There was spot on the far wall that attracted my attention. It was bare, darker than the rest of the visible wall space. I stood, wandering toward it. I touched it, it was cool. Cooler than the walls around it.
I am not a wall. It seemed to say.
“What are you?”
I pulled the table away from the wall; it dragged against the floor in protest. I managed to get it far enough away to squeeze close to the wall. There, were the table hid it, was a keyhole flush with the wall, no decoration at all. I pulled the key from my pocket and slipped it into the lock. Like the others, it fit and allowed me turn it.
A crack appeared around the lock to create a door the size of the strange spot. There was a distinct click, and the door swung open inward. It was dark, inky and thick. The light from the lab did not penetrate that murk. I took a deep breath. There was nothing else to do. This was my path. I stepped through the door.