Matt and Steph decided to stick to Westlake forest. It was relatively isolated, safe from prying eyes, and there were plenty of trees in which to carve a door. Matt brought his pocket knife, a small hammer and a box of nails, and the two of them marched right to the place where the old door had been. Still was, by the looks of it. Matt couldn’t help but think it was still there, just waiting for a key to twist in the lock.
‘Alright. So I guess we just get started, huh?’ he said.
Steph shrugged, looking less sure of herself now that they were actually here. ‘I guess. So, we just carve the outline and the key, cut ourselves and say a word?’
‘That’s what the book says. And that’s what Brian did, isn’t it?’
‘Yeah. It just seems so… easy.’
‘Well. I’ll do the first one. Better hope it’s the last, too, cos I got a feeling I’m gonna get really sick of cutting myself after a while.’ It was a bad joke and Steph didn’t laugh. Matt didn’t really blame her. He stepped up to the nearest tree, a twisted pine that was full of cobwebs and sap on the bark, and started carving his door. Steph waited in silence, shivering in the wind, full of doubt. He cut the sliver of bark and whittled away at it until he had something sort of resembling a key, and then hammered a nail into the tree to make the keyhole. Finally, he stood back and admired the handiwork.
‘It just looks like a tree,’ Steph said.
‘It’s not going to work.’
‘It already did,’ Matt said, nodding at the other tree. He remembered the figures chasing them through long red grass – Ray and Jimmy – and tried not to think of where they were now. Maybe right on the other side of that door, still. Rotting.
‘Ah, fuck it.’ He moved quickly, grimacing in advance of the pain, and drew the blade across his palm. It hurt more than he expected, and he sucked in a sharp breath. He stared at the cut and watched it fill with blood, and then he spoke, feeling stupider than ever. ‘Lanua Patet.’
Steph wrinkled her face, staring at the door. ‘Did you say it right?’ she said.
‘Lanua Patet!’ he said again, making his voice loud and authoritative. She stifled a giggle.
‘Goddammit, it’s not funny! I cut myself.’
She laughed again, and when he spoke the words again, louder, she was practically rolling.
Matt shook his head. ‘Fucking hell.’ He smiled at her – now red in the face from laughing – but inside his heart was sinking. Just what the hell were they supposed to do now? What were they doing wrong?
But the thing wasn’t finished yet. He took his pitiful piece of bark and jammed it into the small hole. It didn’t go at first, so he had to twist and push it until he was sure he’d bent the damn thing all out of shape. When it was all the way in, he gave a final twist and…
Steph had stopped laughing now, and when he turned to look at her she was dead serious. ‘Did you hear that?’ he asked. She nodded. The birds had fallen silent.
Hardly daring to believe it, Matt pulled, and instead of drawing out a broken piece of bark, a whole section of the tree opened up. He stepped back, opening the door all the way, and that was it. Just like that, they’d opened another door.
‘Holy…’ Steph said.
‘Shit.’ Matt could only stand and stare. This world was not like the last one, an entrance into a dark cave. This one opened out into an enormous, brightly lit hallway. They were looking at a wall of varnished wood, with a large painting of what looked like a cross between a spider and a fish: two lidless bulging eyes, a long scaly body lined with eight spindly legs and a bulbous abdomen.
‘I… dunno,’ Matt said. ‘What do you reckon?’
‘I think it could work,’ Steph said.
‘It looks like a house of some kind, right?’
‘A mansion, more like. Look how high up the hallway goes.’
‘So there might be like, a room in there we can stick Brian and Elyse and lock them in. You never know. Or if we get outside into a garden there might be somewhere.’
‘If you say so. You go first, then. We have to check the time difference, don’t we?’
‘Fine. Yeah, okay.’ Matt stepped back, holding the door open for her. She hesitated in the doorway, teeth gritted. Her hands were shaking.
‘Just step in, wait a minute, and step out again, alright?’ Matt said. ‘No exploring.’
‘Yeah no worries.’ She gave him a small smile, closed her eyes, and stepped through the opening.
Almost immediately, her body was filled with electricity. She moved and twitched and glanced every which way, stepped here and there, lifted her phone several times. It was as if someone had switched her onto fast forward. Matt stood in the doorway and gaped, but before he could reach in to pull her out – five or so seconds – she stepped back out and returned to normal.
Matt grabbed her arm and wrenched her away from the doorway. ‘Ah, what’d you do that for?’
‘Didn’t you… What happened to you in there?’
‘Nothing, idiot, what happened to you? The whole time I was in there you were just standing frozen solid like a statue.’
‘I…’ And then it hit him. He laughed. ‘Oh my God, I thought you were having a seizure or something.’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘Look at the time, Steph.’
She took out her phone, but he shook his head and handed her his, where the stopwatch he’d set before she entered had just reached twenty seconds. ‘Oh. The time difference,’ she said.
‘Yeah. That’s what it was. It must be a fast world. Probably about ten to one, I reckon. So ten seconds worth of light leaving you hit the barrier and then reached my eyes all at once. I saw you moving ten times faster than normal, and you saw me moving ten times slower.’
‘Right. Okay, that makes sense. That’s going to make things a lot easier.’
‘This isn’t the place, though – we need somewhere faster,’ Matt said, pushing the door shut. It closed with a satisfying clunk and he drew the key out. It looked skewed and soft, but when he touched it, it was stiff and brittle, more like thin metal than wood.
‘What was in there?’ he asked her.
She shrugged, glancing at the door like something was about to break it down and grab her. ‘Just a long hallway, with more of those gross paintings. There was a room at the end, but I didn’t really want to go there. I didn’t like how it felt, that place.’
‘Yeah, well. It’s my turn next, I guess. You make the door.’
It took a good five minutes for Steph to gather the courage to cut herself, but it wasn’t long before they had the second door open in another pine. This one opened on a wide field strewn with rocks and pebbles. It could have been anywhere in the Scottish highlands. It was overcast, and a few trees were visible poking out of the thick mist.
‘Looks promising,’ Steph said.
‘Yeah. Alright.’ Matt gritted his teeth, started his stopwatch, and marched through the doorway. When he turned around, he saw Steph through the doorway, twitching and shifting in that same fast forward motion he’d seen before. Which meant he was in a slow world. He waved for her to follow, and an instant later she was by his side, the door swinging shut behind her. On this side, it was inset in the side of a tree trunk as thick as the length of a car.
‘Were you timing it?’ he asked her. She nodded. They’d both stopped their watches as soon as she came through, and they compared them now to work out the time difference. ‘About five to one ratio,’ Matt said eventually. ‘Alright, I guess.’
‘Well we better decide quick, then,’ Steph said, looking around the misty clearing. ‘If we stay here too long it’ll be night when we get out.’
‘Right. I guess we’ll just look around, make sure there’s nothing living around here. Last thing we need is Brian and Elyse infecting a whole other universe with that parasite.’
He started out into the clearing, watching the soft ground in front of him and keeping both eyes wide and alert. The mist swirled around him like a living thing, so rich he could almost taste it. It reminded him of the smell of rain before a storm. Strange insects buzzed and croaked all around – the kind of sounds you’d expect to hear in a swamp more than a place like this – but he couldn’t catch a glimpse of any of them.
‘Hey, Matt! Wait!’ He spun around. Her voice had an echo, seeming to come from no particular direction. He’d barely taken twenty steps and she had completely vanished, lost to the mist. ‘Steph! Where are you?’
There were soft footsteps and she appeared, pale with fright. ‘Thank God. I thought I’d lost you. How are we supposed to find our way back to the door in this?’
‘Footprints, see?’ He pointed at the ground, and she breathed a sigh of relief. Both of their footprints were clearly visible in the mossy ground. Even though they could only see a meter or two in any given direction, it would be easy to follow those back.
‘Okay, low visibility, no obvious signs of life nearby, no apparent danger… I’m starting to like this one,’ Matt said.
‘God I hope this is the one. I want to go home.’
‘Yeah, me too. Come on, we’ll just look a little further.’
Without a word, she slid her hand into his and squeezed it hard. She smiled, and he smiled back, and suddenly things didn’t seem so bad. Moving slowly, they made their way through the mist, and in moments it was as though they’d never been there at all, save a few shallow prints in the mud.